Week in Review: November 30–December 4

Historic meeting on human gene editing; signs of obesity found in sperm epigenome; top 10 innovations of 2015; dealing with retractions

By | December 4, 2015

Human Gene Edit Summit

Hundreds of scientists, bioethicists, and historians gathered in Washington, DC, this week for a discussion on human gene editing at a summit organized by two US National Academies, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the U.K.’s Royal Society. For three days, the biggest names in genome editing, including the three discoverers of CRISPR itself (Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Feng Zhang), talked about what’s possible with new precision gene editors, where the challenges still lie, and the best way to move the technology forward. “We could be on the cusp of a new era in human history,” Cal Tech’s David Baltimore, chair of the Summit Planning Committee, said in his opening remarks Tuesday (December 1). “Although gene editing is in its infancy today, it is likely that the pressure to use gene editing will increase in time, and the actions we take now will guide us into the future.” 

Obesity encoded in sperm?

FLICKR, ZAPPYS TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONSAdding to a growing body of evidence that a father’s environment and experience can affect his offspring, researchers this week (December 3) found differences in the epigenomes of lean and obese men’s sperm, as well as in the epigenomes of sperm from obese men before and after bariatric surgery, according to a study published in Cell Metabolism.  “Obese men have information that can be transferred to children that could potentially affect their eating behavior. And this information can be changed if obese men lose weight,” said study coauthor Romain Barrès from the University of Copenhagen. “Our study doesn’t show what is transmitted to children, but it is likely that something is transmitted, and it will change brain development and behavior.”

The study is a “provocative start to asking some really interesting questions,” said Tracy Bale, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the work. “The big picture here is fascinating. It does support the very important potential role of the environment to influence epigenetic marks in dads’ germ cells.”

2015 Top 10 Innovations

The Scientist released its list of the hottest innovations in life science this year, selected by an independent panel of judges based on their potential impacts on science and medicine. This year’s winners include sequencing advances, a new take on an old light microscope, and, of course, CRISPR genome editing.

 

Focus on retractions

© DUSAN PETRICICThis month’s issue of The Scientist takes a look at the growing number of retractions in life-science research. Attorney John Thomas, who represents scientific whistleblowers in a variety of matters, writes about how to recognize red flags of potential wrongdoing in your lab, while Associate Editor Kerry Grens talks with researchers who’ve had to deal with retractions firsthand about the best way to approach the problem. Hervé Maisonneuve of the University of Paris-Sud and Evelyne Decullier of the Hospices Civils de Lyon in France recommend using a standardized form when publishing retraction notices, to help readers discern whether the data, or just the conclusions drawn from them, are flawed.

Other news in life science:

Ebola’s Effects on the Eye
A second doctor shows symptoms of ocular disease after recovering from Ebola infection.

Combating Whooping Cough
With pertussis outbreaks on the rise this year, a timely animal model study provides hope for an antibody treatment.

Another Obesity Drug Trial Death
A second patient taking an experimental medication to treat Prader-Willi Syndrome has died of blood clots.

A More-Precise CRISPR/Cas9
Researchers have refined amino acids in the Cas9 protein to reduce the occurrence of off-target gene edits.

Leader in Biomechanics Dies
Duke’s Steven Vogel studied how plants and animals adapt to the physical world.

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