Week in Review: June 15–19

Eye on MERS; HIV vaccine design; evolution of Ebola; CRISPR meets optogenetics

Jun 19, 2015
Tracy Vence

Managing MERS

FLICKR, NIAIDAs a Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak continues in South Korea, researchers continue to investigate the coronavirus’s transmission and pathogenesis. Even now, said Peter Embarek of the World Health Organization, “we’re still a little bit in the dark.”

While health officials are tracing contacts on the ground, scientists are working to develop better animal models of MERS in the lab. A key question is why “people get sick with this virus” when infected mice and monkeys don’t fall as ill, as the University of Iowa’s  Stanley Perlman told The Scientist.

Toward an HIV vaccine

WIKIMEDIA, NIHResearchers are deploying a variety of strategies in an effort to manufacture broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, which could help inform vaccine design. In three independent papers published in Cell and Science this week (June 17 and 18), researchers report on their progress toward the production of such antibodies using two different tactics.

“Both of these approaches have crossed a threshold in the laboratory . . . to provide enough scientific rationale for human testing,” said John Mascola of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the work.

Ebola’s evolution

PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND; MILES CARROLL, MICHAEL ELMORE (WITH PERMISSION FROM NATURE PUBLISHING GROUP)Two teams published in Nature and Cell this week (June 17 and 18) their independent genomic analyses of Ebola virus samples collected from patients sickened in the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. Both groups found that the virus has changed only slightly since being introduced to humans in 2013.

“These studies show the virus is not mutating like mad and does not appear to be adapting to a novel phenotype,” said Public Health England’s Miles Carroll, who coauthored one of the papers.

Oliver Pybus of the University of Oxford who was not involved in the work told The Scientist that there’s more to understanding Ebola than estimating viral mutation rates, however. He also called for real-time data sharing. “The field needs to get together and agree on genomic [data]-sharing principles,” said Pybus. “Information that can guide public-health interventions will be lost if the data is reported piecemeal or with significant delays.”

CRISPR meets optogenetics

FLICKR, INDI SAMARAJIVAInvestigators at the University of Tokyo have generated a light-activated Cas9 nuclease that can be used for CRISPR-based gene-editing with an optogenetics twist. Their results were published in Nature Biotechnology this week (June 15).

“This is an effective new system for extremely precise control of gene editing via light,” Paul Knoepfler of the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the research told The Scientist in an e-mail.

The study offers “a nice demonstration of using the structural knowledge of Cas9 to engineer it for expanded capabilities, and highlights the versatility of the system,” added the Broad Institute’s Fei Ann Ran, who also was not involved in the work.

Cellular recycling labels

WIKIMEDIA, OPENSTAX COLLEGEIn both yeast and mice, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) contain receptors that mark the organelles for degradation through autophagy, two independent teams showed in Nature papers published this month (June 3).

“The major finding is that [the] ER . . . has a homeostatic mechanism to remodel itself, to turn over its own contents,” said Ivan Dikic of the Goethe University School of Medicine who coauthored one of the studies. “And that this mechanism, which regulates this housekeeping function, is mediated by selective autophagy.”

Other news in life science:

Captive Chimps Endangered, Too
The US Fish and Wildlife Service moves captive chimpanzees under the umbrella of federal protection that covers their wild counterparts.

Widespread Data Duplication
Around one out of every four cancer papers scrutinized in a recent study contains questionable figures, and journals and authors aren’t responding to requests for clarification.

MERS Update
An outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea has now sickened more than 150, killing 19.

Kennewick Man Was Native American
Genomic analysis suggests that the skeleton’s closest living relatives are Native American after all.

EMBL Goes OA
Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory must now publish their work in an open-access database.