Week in Review: January 25–29

Improving Zika diagnostics; genetics of schizophrenia; spermatogenesis in mice without Y chromosomes; toward animal-free toxicity testing

Tracy Vence
Jan 29, 2016

Better Zika diagnostics

WIKIMEDIA, JEFFREY M. VINOCURAcademic and industry researchers are working to develop better diagnostic tests for Zika virus infection. The current PCR-based test can detect viral RNA, but “by the time [patients] make it into the clinic, the virus is likely gone or it’s at the tail end, beyond the limit of detection,” Nikos Vasilakis at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston told The Scientist.

Antibody-based tests are desired, but distinguishing Zika from other flaviviruses such as dengue has been a challenge. “Where Zika is occurring is the same place dengue is occurring,” said Mike Diamond of Washington University in St. Louis.

Synaptic pruning and schizophrenia

HEATHER DE RIVERAOverpruning of synapses may contribute to the development of schizophrenia, scientists at Harvard University and their colleagues showed in Nature this week (January 27). The team homed in on an immune protein called complement 4...

“[C4] has not been on anybody’s radar for having anything to do with schizophrenia, and now it is and there’s a whole bunch of really neat stuff that could happen,” said Patrick Sullivan of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine who was not involved in the study.

Replacing the Y chromosome

AMANDA SHELLBy increasing the expression of two non-Y chromosome genes, a team led by investigators at the University of Hawaii has generated male mice lacking Y chromosomes that can produce spermatids made viable with assisted reproduction techniques. The group’s results appeared in Science this week (January 28).

“We knew that manipulating Sox9 can make female XX mice develop as males,” study coauthor Monika Ward of Hawaii told The Scientist. “But in most previous studies, people were basically investigating testes development during early growth but not really looking at what happens in the testes of mature males at fertility.” 

“It’s interesting to consider, from an evolutionary standpoint, because the current theory is that the Y chromosome genes are degenerating and the X chromosome compensates for it,” she added.

Other news in life science:

Animal-Free Toxicity Testing
Scientists debut a system that can quickly test the toxicity of thousands of compounds in vitro.

Zika Update
The virus continues to spread as countries issue pregnancy advisories and drug firms pick up on vaccine development.

CRISPR Corrects Retinal Disease Mutation
Patient-derived stem cells containing a genetic mutation leading to blindness can be successfully edited using CRISPR/Cas9, researchers show.

More Evidence of Alzheimer’s Transmission
Examining the brains of seven patients who died of the prion disease called Creutzfeldt–Jakob, researchers find signs of Alzheimer’s pathology.

NSF Calls for Harassment Prevention
The National Science Foundation reiterates its commitment “to eradicate gender-based discrimination in science” with a statement geared toward the institutions it funds.