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Week in Review: July 27–31

Synthetic ribosome; lack of funding for MERS vaccines and therapies; reconstructing ancestral viral vectors for gene therapy; prostate organoid, BPA, and cancer risk

Tracy Vence

Synthetic cellular machinery

ERIK CARLSONScientists from the University of Illinois, Chicago, have synthesized ribosomes composed of two designer subunits for the purposes of learning more about how these cellular machines work and for potential synthetic biology applications. Their results were published in Nature this week (July 29).

“It’s a key advance in understanding ribosome [function] and also in establishing a path to fundamentally alter the catalytic center of the ribosome . . . which will really allow you to start introducing new types of chemistries [and] producing entirely new classes of synthetic polymers,” said Farren Isaacs of Yale University who was not involved in the work.

“This was not a casual weekend experiment. This was a major effort,” said Harry Noller of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who also was not involved in the research.

Lack of funding stalls MERS research

FLICKR, NIAIDResearchers are making progress toward...

“You have to get support from either a company or a foundation to push [vaccines or monoclonal antibodies] into clinical studies,” immunologist Shibo Jiang of the New York Blood Center told The Scientist.

The funding problem extends beyond MERS. And researchers expect other emerging infectious diseases to take the world by surprise. “There’s going to be other emerging infectious diseases on the horizon,” said Barney Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who led the Nature Communications study. “The world needs a better mechanism to be able to respond to emerging diseases in a more organized and systematic way.”

Reconstructing ancestral AAVs

LIVIA CARVALHOIn an attempt to develop immune system-evading adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors for gene therapies, a team led by scientists from the Schepens Eye Research Institute and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston has looked to the viruses’ past. Reconstructing ancestral AAVs, the group found they did not elicit signs of immune rejection when delivered to mammalian tissues. The results were published in Cell Reports this week (July 30).

“This is a very thorough, creative, and carefully done study,” said Jean Bennett of the University of Pennsylvania who has collaborated with study lead Luk Vandenberghe, but was not involved in the work. “The ancestral AAVs have promise with respect to use, although, ultimately, human testing would reveal their utility.”

Other news in life science:

Anthrax Sent in Error to 86 Labs
A US Army lab shipped live spores of the deadly bacterium because of improper irradiation protocols, a Department of Defense review has found.

EMA Green Lights Malaria Vax
The European Medicines Agency endorses the first-ever malaria vaccine for use in children six weeks to 17 months old.

UCSD Scores Legal Win over USC
A judge issued custody of an Alzheimer’s research project to the University of California, San Diego, after the lead researcher on the grant left the school and transferred to the University of Southern California.

Prostate Organoid from Stem Cells
Researchers construct a 3-D cell model of the prostate gland and use it to show that exposure to BPA, a plastic additive, may increase the risk of cancer in the organ

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