Week in Review: March 31–April 3

Smaller enzyme enables CRISPR gene-editing in vivo; personalized cancer vaccines; neuroprosthetic helps “blind” rats navigate; overstated Ebola predictions

Apr 3, 2015
Tracy Vence

New CRISPR enzyme

WIKIMEDIA, NIAIDCRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang and his colleagues at MIT and elsewhere have identified a Cas9 enzyme, saCas9, which they used to successfully apply CRISPR gene-editing in living mice using an adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector. The team’s results were published in Nature this week (April 1).

“The paper illustrates that there is more to the Cas9 world than the first characterized protein (nuclease), and that new avenues will open as the toolbox is expanded,” Rodolphe Barrangou of North Carolina State University who was not involved in the study wrote in an e-mail.

“What’s exciting about [saCas9] is it works really well in vivo,” said Charlie Gersbach of Duke University who also did not participate in the work.

Personalized vaccines target melanoma

WIKIMEDIA, ASZAKALResearchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and their colleagues have developed personalized cancer vaccines, which they tested on three melanoma patients in order to assess immunologic effects. Their results were published in Science this week (April 2).

“Scientifically and immunologically, this was a tour de force as the first example of a personalized vaccine strategy,” said Jeffrey Weber, a tumor immunologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, who was not involved in the research.

Much work remains before such vaccines, which appear to activate tumor-targeting T cells, are ready for full-scale clinical trials, Weber noted. “I don’t think we know how many T cells we need to generate to a given antigen for the vaccine to be efficacious.”

Neuroprosthetic helps “blind” rats “see”

NORIMOTO AND IKEGAYARats stripped of their eyesight can sense direction with the help of a neuroprosthesis consisting of a geomagnetic compass and a microstimulator with electrodes implanted in the animals’ primary visual cortices, according to a study published this week (April 2) in Current Biology. Researchers from the University of Tokyo hope their results in rats might one day inform the development of similar devices for humans.

“Many neuroscientists hold on to the reasonable—but largely untested—intuition that the brain can only incorporate a new data stream if it's an extension of, or structured the same as, existing senses,” said David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who was also not involved in the research. “But this result beautifully illustrates that we have not yet discovered the theoretical limits of the brain’s flexibility.”

New bacterial phylum?

FLICKR, MARK ANDERSONUsing 16s ribosomal RNA sequencing on samples isolated from hot springs in North America and Asia, scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) may have uncovered a new bacterial phylum, which they’ve dubbed Candidatus Kryptonia. The scientists presented their unpublished results at the JGI User Meeting held in California last month (March 25).

“It’s always difficult to claim absolutely a new lineage until you’ve done some biochemical tests,” said microbial ecologist Jack Gilbert of Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago, who was not involved with the study, “but, genomics-wise, this thing appears to fit outside of our current understanding.”

Other news in life science:

Study: Ebola Predictions Overstated
Most forecasting methods used to predict the extent of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa overestimated the epidemic’s reach, an updated analysis shows.

Online Platforms to Share Medical Data Launch
The “Genes for Good” Facebook app and the Open Humans Network plan to recruit large numbers of volunteers for medical studies using social media.

NIH Assembles Precision Medicine Panel
The US National Institutes of Health has formed a team of experts to begin the process of building President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

Fast-Track Peer Review Controversy
An editor of the journal Scientific Reports quits in protest of paid, expedited review.

Ebola Mutation Rate Quibble
A study suggests that the virus may not be evolving as quickly as a previous group estimated.