Week in Review: May 4–8

“Missing link” microbe illuminates early archaea and eukaryote evolution; new pluripotent stem cell identified; comparative gene expression; editing human endothelial cells with CRISPR

May 8, 2015
Tracy Vence

Prokaryote-eukaryote link?

UNIVERSITY OF BERGEN CENTRE FOR GEOBIOLOGY, R.B. PEDERSENUsing metagenomics techniques to analyze samples of deep-sea prokaryotic microbes collected near a mid-Atlantic hydrothermal vent, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden and their colleagues have identified a new species of archaea—one with several eukaryote-like genes, hinting at a potential common ancestor for archaea and eukaryotes. The team’s results were published in Nature this week (May 6).

“In the field of the origin of eukaryotic cells, this is probably one of the biggest new discoveries that we’ve seen for 30 years or so,” said evolutionary biologist Andrew Roger of Dalhousie University in Canada who was not involved in the work. “It’s a true so-called missing link between archaea and eukaryotes.”

“This is the most exciting and important paper on big questions about eukaryotic origins and the tree of life in years,” said evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Palmer of Indiana University, Bloomington, who was not involved with the work. “This should have a major effect on textbook treatment of these subjects.”

New stem cell

SALK INSTITUTE FOR BIOLOGICAL STUDIES; JUN WU, DAIJI OKAMURAA team led by investigators at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, has identified a new pluripotent cell type: region-selective pluripotent stem cells (rsPSCs). RsPSCs, which the team isolated from early mouse embryos as well as monkey and human cell lines, can be stably cultured and a more amenable to experimental manipulations, the researchers noted in their May 6 Nature paper reporting the finding.

The work “highlights a new type of pluripotent stem cell, which is among the most exciting aspects of stem cell biology over the last several years,” said George Daley, a stem cell biologist at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the work.

“We believe that [rsPSCs] should have the ability to differentiate more efficiently into somatic cells . . . because they are right at the junction of pluripotency and differentiation,” said study coauthor Jun Wu of the Salk.

Genotype-Tissue Expression analyses

LESLIE GAFFNEYMembers of the international Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) Consortium this week (May 7) presented in Science their analyses of gene expression across tissues and individuals.

The project “integrates two dimensions that have been independent up to now”—genomic variation and tissue-specific expression, study coauthor Emmanouil “Manolis” Dermitzakis of the University of Geneva told The Scientist.

“GTEx is a beautiful example of how you could conduct such analyses that really could be of use to the clinic,” said Lude Franke of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands who was not involved in the study.

Other news in life science:

Prominent Cell Biologist Dies
Cytoskeleton specialist Alan Hall was best known for unpacking the roles of Rho GTPases.  

Renowned Molecular Biologist Dies
Alexander Rich, discoverer of Z-DNA, the RNA-DNA double helix, and the structure of collagen, has passed away at age 90.

Prominent Chemist Dies
Oktay Sinanoglu, best known for his work in physical chemistry and biochemistry, has passed away at age 80.

Editing Human Blood Vessel Cells with CRISPR
Researchers use the genome-editing tool to manipulate cultured human endothelial cells.

Climate Change Speeds Extinctions
Species die-offs are expected to accelerate as greenhouse gases accumulate, according to a meta-analysis.

Outsmarting HIV
Small molecules that mimic the T-cell surface receptor CD4 could expose the virus to antibody-based immune responses.