Week in Review: December 7–11

Effects of experimental brain manipulations questioned; long-lived memory T cells; more GM microbe “kill switches”; CRISPR therapy in a dish

Dec 11, 2015
Tracy Vence

Function conundrum

WIKIMEDIA, PERIPITUSIn rats and zebra finches, transient brain manipulations show different functional effects than permanent lesions in the same regions, a team led by investigators at Harvard reported this week (December 9) in Nature. Further, the researchers showed that both transient inactivation and stimulation of a particular region in the rat brain impaired the animal’s performance on a given task, hinting at acute widespread circuit dysfunction that could confuse research results.

“This is a paper that had to be done,” said Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin who was not involved in the study. “The work is very elegant, very careful, and it shows something that one could definitely suspect . . . but that has never been shown so explicitly.”

More “kill switches” for GM microbes

FLICKR, NIAIDSynthetic gene circuits called “kill switches” ensure that genetically modified (GM) bacteria survive only under certain environmental conditions. This week (December 7) in Nature Chemical Biology, an MIT-led team described two such circuits, which could be used to rein in engineered microbes designed for environmental remediation efforts, among other things.

“This is yet another step forward towards better biosafety and biocontainment based on certain aspects of existing technology,” said Guy-Bart Stan of Imperial College London who was not involved in the study. “Using some existing genetic circuitry . . . you can obtain biosafety for the here and now.”

Tenacious memory T cells

WIKIMEDIA, NCIScientists in Milan have identified two types of memory T cells that stand the test of time. The team sampled the blood of patients who had received hematopoietic stem cell transplants spiked with genetically marked donor memory T cells and showed that two types of memory T cells can persist in people for up to 14 years. The results were published this week (December 9) in Science Translational Medicine.

 “This is one of the most thorough studies using diverse clonal tracking technologies to analyze the fate of individual memory T cells in humans,” said Luca Gattinoni of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the research.

Other news in life science:

ORI Names New Director
Neuroscientist Kathryn Partin will lead the US Office of Research Integrity.

CRISPR Therapy in a Dish
Redirecting the gene-editing tool to modulate gene expression, researchers restore protein function in cells from a child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

CDC Reassigns Lab Regulation Chief
After a string of breaches involving anthrax, Ebola, and bird flu, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reportedly replaced the director of its Division of Select Agents and Toxins.

Drug Produced in GM Chicken Approved
The US Food and Drug Administration greenlights a rare-disease drug that is produced in the eggs of genetically modified chickens.

The Scientific Outreach Gap
A survey finds that arts, humanities, and social science faculty members in the U.K. engage more with the general public than their counterparts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.