Week in Review: April 3–7

Virus triggers gluten intolerance in mice; UK bank offers clinic-ready hESC lines; researchers debate giant virus origins; cephalopods edit RNA; scientists screen noncoding genome with CRISPR

Apr 7, 2017
Tracy Vence

Virus triggers gluten intolerance

Infecting mice with a human reovirus led to an immune response against dietary gluten and other signs of celiac disease, researchers from the University of Chicago and their colleagues reported in Science this week (April 6).

“It’s been hypothesized for decades that virus infection can trigger autoimmune processes,” said Herbert Virgin of the University of Washington who was not involved in the work. “This study provides an example of that phenomenon and some mechanistic insight into how this might work for celiac disease.”

Clinic-ready hESCs

Researchers can now apply to purchase ready-made human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines from the UK Stem Cell Bank. All samples in the repository comply with the European Tissue and Cell Directives. Glyn Stacey, director of the resource, told The Scientist that his team made sure that all banked, clinic-ready hESC lines were produced according to these regulations “right from the donor selection, procurement of tissues, the consent process, the storage of the cells, and the transfer of the cells to the lab where they were derived.”

Origins of giant viruses debated

Scientists at the US Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute reported having discovered four new giant viruses, which they’ve called “Klosneuviruses,” in samples taken from a wastewater treatment plant in Austria. In their paper, published this week (April 6) in Science, the team proposed that these viruses evolved from smaller ones, from which they accumulated genetic material over time.

Virologists who discovered the giant Mimivirus, including Didier Raoult of Aix-Marseille University in France, disagreed with that idea. Given that scientists have only begun to focus on giant viruses in the last 15 years, “it’s very early to make generalizations about this,” Raoult told The Scientist.

See “Viruses Reconsidered

RNA-editing cephalopods

The genomes of behaviorally complex coleoid cephalopods—including octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—contain hundreds of thousands of RNA-editing sites, suggesting that the animals recode their messenger RNAs en route to becoming proteins, researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel and their colleagues reported in Cell this week (April 6).

“When we started looking into this we really didn’t know if this massive recoding was more of a bug or more of a feature,” coauthor Noa Liscovitch-Brauer, a postdoc at Tel Aviv University, told The Scientist. The team next plans to further examine the functional effects of this extensive RNA editing.

Regulatory elements in noncoding DNA

Using a CRISPR-Cas9–based epigenome-editing technique, scientists at Duke University screened for regulatory elements across noncoding regions of the human genome. The team’s results were published in Nature Biotechnology this week (April 3).

“It turns out that most of the genetic variation that’s responsible for common complex diseases—like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurological disorders—actually happens in this region in between genes,” coauthor Charles Gersbach of Duke told The Scientist.

Count on contamination

Working on a comparative evolutionary genetics project called PopPhyl, researchers at the Montpellier Institute of Evolutionary Sciences in France and their colleagues sent 446 RNA samples off for commercial sequencing. Of these, 353 showed signs of cross-species contamination in the researchers’ own analyses of the sequence data.

“The more people that write papers like this—that make others aware of contamination—the better,” said Steven Salzberg of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the work.

See “The Great Big Clean-Up

News from AACR

Mutations linked to secondary cancers; how fat impacts cancer; epigenome-targeted therapies; notable quotes; and more

Opinion

Why I Published in a Predatory Journal
John McCool, a scientific editor in Houston, Texas, writes: My “colleagues” and I at the fictitious Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute were surprised to find our bogus “uromycitisis” case report swiftly accepted, with only minor revisions requested.

Other news in life science

FDA OKs Marketing of DTC Genetic Health-Risk Tests
23andMe customers can now receive information about genetic risk for diseases including Parkinson’s and celiac.

Proposed NIH Cuts Hit Bipartisan Opposition in Congress
Both Democrats and Republications criticize the Trump administration’s plan to cut funding for biomedical research.

Trump Meets with HHS, NIH Brass
President Donald Trump, HHS Secretary Tom Price, and NIH Director Francis Collins discussed the opioid crisis and retaining young researchers in the biomedical research enterprise, among other things, according to a White House official.

DNA-Based Zika Vaccine Reaches Phase 2
An NIAID-sponsored clinical trial advances beyond safety testing.

CDC Recommends Brain Imaging for Zika-Affected Babies
Infants born to mothers who were infected with the virus during pregnancy—including babies who do not show signs of microcephaly—may experience other birth defects.