Week in Review: March 23–27

Methylation of a key protein; leprosy-causing bacterium sequenced; CDC lab safety report; FDA says GM apples, potatoes “safe”

Tracy Vence
Mar 26, 2015

Notch methylation

WIKIMEDIA, HANNES ROSTA team led by investigators at the Max-Planck-Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics has found that methylation of Notch can have substantial effects on the protein’s activities. Their findings were published in Science Signaling this week (March 24).

Methylation “both leads to the degradation of Notch, but it is also very important for activation. It has an enigmatic role,” said geneticist Rhett Kovall of the University of Cincinnati, who was not involved in the work.

“Notch signaling is very context- and tissue-dependent,” Kovall continued. For example, “most of the time Notch is an oncogene, but there are a number of cases where it is actually a tumor suppressor. . . . It’s incredibly complex.”

Leprosy bacterium sequenced

LUCIO VERA-CABRERAResearchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and their colleagues reported the sequence of Mycobacterium lepromatosis, which causes a rare form of leprosy, in PNAS this week (March 23). The team also compared the newly sequenced species with M. leprae, the bacterium previously believed to be to sole cause of the disease. Among other things, the comparative study identified how the two species split millions of years ago.

“It appears, to me, to be a landmark paper, which really provides a bounty of insight into this newly recognized and little-understood organism,” said Richard Truman, chief of the laboratory research branch at the National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was not involved in the work.

Other news in life science:

CDC Scores Poorly on Biosafety
In the wake of numerous safety breaches at the federal agency, a new report finds US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oversight “inconsistent and insufficient at multiple levels.”

Judge Wants Info on PubPeer Commenter
In a defamation lawsuit involving anonymous comments on the post-publication peer review website, a judge requests potentially identifying information.

FDA Deems GM Apples, Potatoes Safe
Genetically modified, non-browning apples and bruise-resistant potatoes are safe, the US Food and Drug Administration says.

Portable DNA Sequencer Can ID Bacteria and Viruses
A palm-sized, nanopore-based USB device can recognize E. coli, cowpox, and vaccinia.

Bioethics Leader Dies
Philosopher John Arras, who tackled thorny issues in medical care, has passed away at age 69.