the-rumors-were-true-scientists-edited-the-genomes-of-human-embryos-for-the-first-time

The Rumors Were True: Scientists edited the genomes of human embryos for the first time

In March, a rumor surfaced in the scientific community that was intriguing, and perhaps a bit chilling: According to those in the know, researchers in China had successfully edited the genomes of human embryos, altering their DNA in a way never accomplished in our own species. MIT Technology Review reported on the murmurings that someone had altered the germ line — the genetic information that come together and form something new when eggs and sperm collide. Even unconfirmed, those rumors led to a lot of debate about the potential downsides of altering the germ line. Carl Zimmer has more on the controversy at his blog on National Geographic.

On Wednesday, Nature News reported that the paper in question had been quietly published in a low-profile journal called Protein & Cell.

The work, led by Junjiu Huang of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, focused on modifying the gene responsible for β-thalassaemia, a blood disorder that can be fatal. They used CRISPR, a cutting-edge gene editing tool that’s already made serious waves in the genome editing of other species. By going after genes at the earliest stage of human development — in a single-celled embryo — theoretically one can make sure all the subsequent copies of the gene are the superior version. But we have a long way to go before that’s actually the case.

Read the full article here.

Resistance to Antibiotics Found in Isolated Amazonian Tribe

When scientists first made contact with an isolated village of Yanomami hunter-gatherers in the remote mountains of the Amazon jungle of Venezuela in 2009, they marveled at the chance to study the health of people who had never been exposed to Western medicine or diets. But much to their surprise, these Yanomami’s gut bacteria have already evolved a diverse array of antibiotic-resistance genes, according to a new study, even though these mountain people had never ingested antibiotics or animals raised with drugs. The find suggests that microbes have long evolved the capability to fight toxins, including antibiotics, and that preventing drug resistance may be harder than scientists thought.

The human gut harbors trillions of bacteria, collectively known as the microbiome. Several recent studies have found that people in industrialized nations host far fewer types of microbes than hunter-gatherers in Africa, Peru, and Papua New Guinea, for example. This is intriguing as the absence of diverse bacteria has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and many autoimmune disorders, such as allergies, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and colitis.

The discovery is troubling because it suggests that “antibiotic resistance is ancient, diverse, and astonishingly widespread in nature—including within our own bodies,” says anthropologist Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, who is not a co-author. “Such findings and their implications explain why antibiotic resistance was so quick to develop after the introduction of therapeutic antibiotics, and why we today should be very concerned about the proper use and management of antibiotics in both clinical and agricultural contexts.”

Read the full article here.

How The Wolf Became The Dog

Scientists who study canine origins seem to fight about everything: where dogs arose, when this happened, and even the best way to find these answers. But there’s one thing most of them agree on: how dogs became domesticated. Still, it’s taken almost a century to get here, and the details are still emerging.

So what did happen? Most experts now think dogs domesticated themselves. Early humans left piles of discarded carcasses at the edges of their campsites—a veritable feast, the thinking goes, for wolves that dared get close to people. Those wolves survived longer and produced more pups—a process that, generation by generation, yielded ever-bolder animals, until finally a wolf was eating out of a person’s hand. Once our ancestors realized the utility of these animals, they initiated a second, more active phase of domestication, breeding early canines to be better hunters, herders, and guardians.

Read the full article here. 

Chimps That Hunt Offer a New View on Evolution

Studies of hunters and gatherers — and of chimpanzees, which are often used as stand-ins for human ancestors — have cast bigger, faster and more powerful males in the hunter role. Now, a 10-year study of chimpanzees in Senegal shows females playing an unexpectedly big role in hunting and males, surprisingly, letting smaller and weaker hunters keep their prey. The results do not overturn the idea of dominant male hunters, said Jill D. Pruetz of Iowa State University, who led the study. But they may offer a new frame of reference on hunting, tools and human evolution. “We need to broaden our perspective,” she said.

Craig Stanford, an anthropologist at the University of Southern California who has written extensively on chimp hunting and human evolution, said the research was “really important” because it solidified the evidence for chimps hunting with tools, which Dr. Pruetz had reported in earlier papers. It also clearly shows “the females are more involved than in other places,” he said, adding that it provides new evidence to already documented observations that female chimps are “much more avid tool users than males are.”

Read the full article here.

2015 | Hannah Landecker & Aaron Panofsky – Commentaries and Reflections on “Inheritance of Acquired Epigenetic Variations”

A special section of commentaries and reflections on epigenetic inheritance has been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, centered on the reprint of the 1989 article  “Inheritance of Acquired Epigenetic Variations” by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb.  ISG faculty members Aaron Panofsky and Hannah Landecker both contributed invited commentaries to the issue, which is now available in advance online publication at IJE’s Advance Access page.

Aaron Panofsky- Commentary: a conceptual revolution limited by disciplinary division
Hannah Landecker – Commentary: The Information of Conformation

Big Data Allows Computer Engineers to Find Genetic Clues in Humans

Big data: It’s a term we read and hear about often, but is hard to grasp. Computer scientists at Washington University in St. Louis’ School of Engineering & Applied Science tackled some big data about an important protein and discovered its connection in human history as well as clues about its role in complex neurological diseases. Through a novel method of analyzing these big data, Sharlee Climer, PhD, research assistant professor in computer science, and Weixiong Zhang, PhD, professor of computer science and of genetics at the School of Medicine, discovered a region encompassing the gephyrin gene on chromosome 14 that underwent rapid evolution after splitting in two completely opposite directions thousands of years ago. Those opposite directions, known as yin and yang, are still strongly evident across different populations of people around the world today.

The results of their research, done with Alan Templeton, PhD, the Charles Rebstock professor emeritus in the Department of Biology in the College of Arts & Sciences, appear in the March 27 issue of Nature Communications.

Read the full article here.

Why Iceland Is the World’s Greatest Genetic Laboratory

Today, the journal Nature Genetics released a set of four papers based entirely on the genetic sequences of Icelanders. Their results, which range from the identification of a new Alzheimer’s-associated gene to the age of the most recent male ancestor shared by all humans, are part of a long history of genetic discoveries from deCODE, a company that has been collecting and analyzing Icelandic genomes for 18 years. Their findings will help guide medical research and the understanding of human evolution. But more important than the results themselves are where they came from—and what that origin story says about the future of genetic research.

Read the full article here.

Williams Institute at UCLA Launches First-Of-Its-Kind Study of U.S. Transgender Population

Researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, Columbia University and The Fenway Institute at Fenway Health are launching a first-of-its-kind study of the transgender population in the United States that they expect will create a more accurate and detailed picture of the issues faced by transgender individuals. The study, which is being led by Ilan Meyer, Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute, will provide researchers and policymakers with unbiased estimates about the demographics, health outcomes and health care needs of the transgender population by relying on a randomly selected sample of the U.S. population. The study, titled “TransPop: U.S. Transgender Population Health Survey,” also will provide insights into the methodology of surveying transgender people.

The researchers will use a survey of 350,000 U.S. adults, conducted by Gallup, a global survey organization that delivers analytics and advice. Gallup survey participants will be screened during a one-year period, and those who identify as transgender will be invited to participate in the TransPop study. The researchers estimate that 300-500 transgender-identified individuals will participate.

Read the full article here.