Week in Review: May 16–20

Genetic overlap among phenotypes; National Academies on GE crops; hundreds of antibiotic candidates synthesized; an unintended effect of antibiotic treatment in stem cell recipients; giraffe genome; psilocybin shows promise for depression; Senate considers embryo-editing research

May 20, 2016
Tracy Vence

Shared variants

Analyzing data from 16 genome-wide association studies and the database of direct-to-consumer genetic testing firm 23andMe, a team led by researchers at the New York Genome Center has identified shared associations between certain genetic variants and seemingly disparate phenotypes. “Our idea was to try to gather up all the traits that have been studied in large genetic studies and see if there is shared biology between these different traits that seem unrelated,” said study coauthor Joseph Pickrell of the New York Genome Center.

#GECropStudy

“Emerging genetic technologies have blurred the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding to the point where regulatory systems based on process are technically difficult to defend.” —Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects

Candidate antibiotics

Harvard scientists have synthesized more than 300 new macrolide antibiotics, including one that’s now being trialed in the clinic. “This is the first time there is a relatively easy path to synthesize macrolide erythromycin-type antibiotics from scratch,” said Northeastern University’s Kim Lewis, who was not involved in the work.

Unintended effects

Certain broad-spectrum antibiotics can worsen the effects of graft-versus-host disease in allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients who develop the condition, researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and their colleagues have shown.

Psychedelic treatment

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, eased the symptoms of 12 patients with treatment-resistant depression, according to researchers at Imperial College London and their colleagues. “This gives us an initial impression of the effectiveness of the treatment,” study coauthor Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College told Nature News.

Giraffe genes

Researchers at the African Institute of Science and Technology and their colleagues have sequenced the genomes of giraffe and okapi, homing in on genes that likely led to the former animals’ elongated necks.

“Three-parent babies”

The US Senate is considering whether to extend a bill banning embryo-editing–related research, including that on mitochondrial replacement therapy—an approach green lighted in the U.K. and elsewhere. Some research institutions would like to see the ban lifted. “We are advocating to remove the [ban] language or to modify it, to allow science around mitochondrial replacement therapy to advance,” Lynne Boyle, director of federal relations at Oregon Health & Science University, told The Scientist.