Week in Review: December 26-30

More anti-CRISPRs; Neanderthal genes in modern humans; a major diabetes retraction; how a dinosaur species lost its teeth; interviews with PLOS and r/science

By | January 3, 2017

The latest on CRISPR deactivators

Another batch of anti-CRISPRs made their debut on December 29 in a study published in Cell. Although scientists recently described other Cas9 inhibitors, these inhibitors are capable of blocking Cas9 in Streptococcus pyogenes, the form of the DNA-cutting enzyme frequently used in genome editing.

“The next step is to show in human cells that using these inhibitors can actually improve the precision of gene editing by reducing off-target effects,” said coauthor Benjamin Rauch, a post-doc in Joseph Bondy-Denomy’s lab at the University of California, San Francisco, in a press release. “We also want to understand exactly how the inhibitor proteins block Cas9’s gene targeting abilities, and continue the search for more and better CRISPR inhibitors in other bacteria.”

The once and future PLOS

In October, PLOS announced that Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Marincola will be leaving the nonprofit champion of open-access publishing at the end of this year. The Scientist recently spoke with Marincola, and asked her where she thinks PLOS stands in the now crowded online open-access landscape.

“The first and primary mission of PLOS when it was founded was to make the case that open-access publishing could be a sustainable business, whether in a nonprofit environment or a for-profit environment,” Marincola said. “So the very fact [that] we have a lot of competition now is extremely satisfying to us and it is, in itself, a major part of our vision. As Harold Varmus said when he cofounded PLOS, if we could put ourselves out of business because the whole world becomes open-access STM [science, technology, and medicine] publishing, that would be the greatest testament to our achievements.”

How Neanderthal genes stuck around in human genomes

Prior studies have demonstrated that the human genome is peppered with the DNA of extinct hominins. A November 29 study in Genome Biology provides some of the first evidence that the Neanderthal DNA found at one locus within the modern human genome is likely the result of positive selection. The study also demonstrated that the Neanderthal haplotype influences the function of two different immune cell types derived from human blood samples.

“This paper contributes to the evidence provided by several recent studies that regions of our genome involving our bodies’ interaction with the environment, such as the immune system, are the most likely targets of adaptive introgression,” Tony Capra of Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the work, wrote in an email.  

High-profile diabetes retraction

After multiple trials failed to replicate a 2013 study in Cell that suggested a hormone called betatrophin, or Angiopoietin-like protein 8 (Angptl8), “could augment or replace insulin injections” in diabetic mice, the journal has retracted the paper.

Lead author Douglas Melton of Harvard University contributed to the mounting evidence against his findings, when he tried to replicate his study in 2015, failed, and then published the evidence against his initial findings in PLOS ONE. “I wanted to make sure anyone doing a PubMed search would see this is our present view,” Melton told Retraction Watch about the retraction. “It would be most unfortunate if a lab missed the PLOS ONE paper, then wasted time and effort trying to replicate our results.”

Other news in life science

The Scientist’s Year in Review
Twelve months of news and features

Science on Reddit in 2016
A conversation with Nate Allen, head moderator of r/Science

Cheetah Range Drops 90 Percent
Estimating only 7,100 individuals remaining, researchers urge a reclassification of the species from vulnerable to endangered.

Fish Oil During Pregnancy May Lower Asthma Risk in Children
Pregnant women who took a fish oil supplement during pregnancy were less likely to have children with asthma.

Fruit Bats Argue Using Nuanced Communication
Audio recordings of bats hashing out disputes reveal that their calls are laden with information about identity and intent.

Study: Dinosaurs Lost Teeth, Grew Bird-Like Beaks
A fossil analysis suggests members of at least one dinosaur species started out with full sets of teeth, only to lose them in adulthood and develop beaks instead.

FDA Approves First Treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy
The oligonucleotide therapeutic will soon be available in the U.S.

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