Week in Review: June 8–12

Sperm from ovaries in mutant fish; somatic mosaicism in humans; #DistractinglySexy

Jun 12, 2015
Tracy Vence

Ovarian spermatogenesis

TOSHIYA NISHIMURA AND MINORU TANAKADeletion of foxl3 in female Japanese rice fish, or medaka, enables the production of viable sperm in the animal’s ovaries, researchers from the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan, and their colleagues reported in Science this week (June 11).

“This is exciting because it is absolutely unexpected,” said Manfred Schartl of the University of Würzburg in Germany who was not involved in the work. “That these germ cells have genetically determined sexual fate is new.”

“This shows how plastic the sexual fate of these germ cells is in this species,” said Josephine Bowles of the University of Queensland in Australia who also was not involved in the study.

Whether similar genetic control of germ cells occurs in other species remains to be seen.

Mosaic mutations galore

WIKIMEDIA, DATABASE CENTER FOR LIFE SCIENCESBuilding upon a previous sequencing effort to identify disease-causing de novo mutations in children, investigators from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands and their colleagues set out to estimate the frequency of somatic mosaic mutations in people. Somatic mosaicism, they found, may be responsible for more genomic variation within humans than previously recognized. The team’s results appeared in The American Journal of Human Genetics last week (June 5).

“Given the limitations of current sequencing technologies, this [frequency of mosaic mutations] may be just touching the tip of the iceberg,” said Philip Awadalla of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Toronto who was not involved in the work.

“We consider ourselves as ‘individual’ partially because our genomic makeup is unique,” said Anne Goriely of the University of Oxford who was not involved in the work. “But we are multicellular organisms, containing many populations of cells precisely organized into different tissues and organs. This study suggests that some of our cells carry different versions of our genomes. . . . The implication of this finding is profound, both from a clinical and a philosophical standpoint.”

#DistractinglySexy

“I hope I don’t contaminate my cultures with tears.”TWITTER, @ARYANNA8Nobel Laureate biochemist Tim Hunt resigned from his honorary professor position at University College London this week (June 10), following public uproar over comments he made during a lunchtime session at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in Seoul, South Korea. After calling himself a chauvinist, Hunt reportedly told conference attendees he was in favor of single-sex laboratories because women scientists can be distracting. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he said at WCSJ, according to The New York Times. “Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.” Hunt apologized for his comments in a BBC News interview.

The Vagenda’s response to these events elicited Twitter gold: scientists are now sharing photos of themselves looking #DistractinglySexy in the lab.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Notes & Theories examined “the unseen women scientists behind Tim Hunt’s Nobel prize,” including Joan Ruderman, with whom he worked to discover cyclins at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “The field Hunt partly created, as well as his own scientific career, have both flourished due to his intellectual collaborations with women, as well as countless other academic partnerships between men and women,” wrote Helen Cahill.

Other news in life science:

Synthetic Biology Entrepreneur Dies
Austen Heinz, who founded Cambrian Genomics to custom print DNA and had grand ideas about designing organisms, has passed away at age 31.

NIH Extramural Research Head Resigns
Sally Rockey, deputy director of extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, is leaving the agency this fall to lead an agriculture nonprofit.

Casting a Small Net
Scientists inject flexible, electronic mesh structures into mouse brains to track neurons in real time.

More Lab-Made Nucleotides
Artificial bases that act like the real deal can be designed to bind specifically to tumor cells.

Limbs in the Lab
Scientists bioengineer rat arms and hands from scaffolds stripped of their cellular material.