Week in Review: April 14–18

Genome-wide effects of trisomy 21; RNA-based signs of transgenerational stress; depression and resilience; a call to overhaul US biomedical research system

Apr 18, 2014
Tracy Vence

Trisomy 21 affects genome-wide gene expression

U.S. DOE, HUMAN GENOME PROJECTThe third copy of chromosome 21—the hallmark of Down’s syndrome—can affect transcriptional regulation throughout the genome, a team led by investigators at the University of Geneva Medical School in Switzerland has found. Their work was published in Nature this week (April 16).

Studying a rare monozygotic twin pair in which only one sibling has the disorder, the Swiss team found striking differences in genome-wide gene expression between them. “The fact that they’ve got these really nice domain structures genome-wide further implicates the rising perception of the Down’s syndrome response as being more of a systems-level response,” Robin Dowell of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist.

Stress from one generation to the next

WIKIMEDIA, RAMAMolecular remnants of early-life stress in mice can be passed down across generations, scientists from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and their colleagues showed in Nature Neuroscience this week (April 13). The team found that RNA-based markers in the sperm of rodents that were stressed early on in their lives correlated with certain aversive behaviors, and that these same marks could be found in their offspring, and in some cases, in their offspring’s offspring.

This study “really adds a new dimension in terms of what impact dad can have,” said Stephen Krawetz, the associate director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, who was not involved in the work.

Stimulating mental resilience to treat depression

FLICKR, LIFE MENTAL HEALTHIncreasing depression-causing neuronal activity in mice can reverse behaviors associated with the disorder, investigators at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York have found. Their results were published in Science this week (April 17).

This work “makes us re-evaluate what it means to be resilient,” Michelle Mazei-Robison from Michigan State University, who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist. “Pushing the system one way could actually trigger the brain’s own homeostatic plasticity to push back,” added MIT’s KayTye, who also was not a part of the research. “This could be a critical factor in the functionality of existing therapies [for depression].”

Other news in life science:

Report: Current Research System “Unsustainable”
Four prominent academics call for an overhaul of the US biomedical research workforce.

Women Receive Lab-Grown Vaginas
Doctors implant custom-made organs, built from a tissue sample and a biodegradable scaffold, into four female patients born with underdeveloped or missing vaginas.

Diverse Microbes in Hunter-Gatherers’ Guts
Modern hunter-gatherers have more diverse microbiota in their guts than do urban Europeans, but lack a few notable species.

Fruit Fly Flight Tactics
High-speed cameras capture the remarkable in-flight maneuvers fruit flies use to avoid predators.

Origins of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Uncovered
Researchers construct a family tree of group A Streptococcus to trace the evolution of a “flesh-eating” strain.