Week in Review: May 30–June 3

CRISPR for RNA editing; virologists flock to Zika; bumblebee electroreception; Kavli Prize winners; “Human Genome Project-Write”

Jun 3, 2016
Tracy Vence

CRISPR for RNA

Scientists who last year discovered a set of proteins that appeared to be alternatives to Cas9 have now confirmed that one of these molecules, C2c2, can be programmed to target single-stranded RNA in bacteria. The finding points to the possibility of RNA-editing applications for CRISPR.

“The community was expecting to find native RNA CRISPR systems, so it’s great that one of these has now been characterized,” Gene Yeo, an RNA researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the work told The Scientist.

“If C2c2 can be engineered such that the RNA cleaving activity is specific and no collateral RNA molecules are targeted, then this new tool could provide a much faster way of knocking down gene products over CRISPR interference or CRISPR nuclease which both act at the DNA level,” Mohammad Mandegar of the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, California, who was not involved in the work wrote in an email.

Zika’s allure

“What exactly is attracting virologists to this emerging virus?” Clinical importance, BSL-2 access, and—oh yeah—the potential to publish highly publicized papers in high-impact journals, opines Vincent Racaniello of Columbia University.

Bumblebee electroreception

Mechanosensory hairs on bumblebees’ bodies help the insects sense floral electric fields, researchers reported.

“Deflection of mechanosensory hairs . . . provides a very simple mechanism and raises the possibility that this phenomenon may be much more common than previously thought, at least in hairy insects,” noted Mathieu Lihoreau of the Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France, who was not involved in the study.

Grand proposal

Synthetic biologists have unveiled “Human Genome Project-Write,” an ambitious proposal to build entire genomes from scratch. “It’s essentially a call to action,” proposal coauthor Andrew Hessel of Autodesk Research told BuzzFeed News. “We are suggesting it’s time to consider a new genome project standing on the foundations of the Human Genome Project.”

Kavli Prizes

Eve Marder of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts; Michael Merzenich of the University of California, San Francisco; and Carla Shatz of Stanford University have won the 2016 Kavli Prize in neuroscience. Gerd Binning of IBM Zurich; Christoph Gerber of the University of Basel, Switzerland; and Calvin Quate of Stanford were awarded the 2016 Kavli Prize in nanoscience. (See “Circuit Dynamo,” The Scientist, October 2015; “Foresight,” The Scientist, July 2011; “Atomic Force Microscope, circa 1985,” The Scientist, June 2009.)