Cheap and easy technique to snip DNA
Starting from work on the immune systems of certain bacteria, Jennifer Doudna of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of California, Berkeley, and her team discovered a technique that Doudna says has the potential to “completely revolutionize genome engineering in animals and plants.” The system uses the newly discovered Cas9 enzyme and only one piece of RNA to target and snip specific areas of bacterial DNA. The team says this technique could compete with the newest, most promising methods discovered last year, TALEN and zing-finger nucleases, and outrank these in terms of efficiency.
Insulin’s molecular handshake caught in the act
An international group of researchers reported in Nature last month that they’d revealed a clear picture of how insulin interacts with its receptor, discovering that both change their shapes to bind with one another. This finding was possible with the help of the Australian Synchotron’s powerful MX2 microcrystallography beamline, which is particularly useful for gathering diffraction data from very small crystals, such as those used in the study. “Understanding how insulin interacts with the insulin receptor is fundamental to the development of novel insulins for the treatment of diabetes,” said Mike Lawrence, one of the leaders of this study.
Can blood pressure drugs reduce the risk of dementia?
A new study indicates that beta blockers might be involved in protection against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study looked at men with high blood pressure and revealed that the lot taking beta blockers had fewer brain abnormalities compared with those who had not been treated for their hypertension or who had received other blood pressure medications. “With the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease expected to grow significantly as our population ages, it is increasingly important to identify factors that could delay or prevent the disease,” said study author Lon White of the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu. The results were presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego in January.
New stem cell approach for blindness successful in mice
Oxford University researchers seeking a cure for retinitis pigmentosa, a condition leading to progressive blindness, transplanted mouse precursor cells, resulting in complete reformation of the light-detecting layer of the retinas of previously blind mice. Using a pupil constriction test, they showed that the retinas of the mice were sensing light once more, and the information was transmitted through the optic nerve to the brain. “The ability to reconstruct the entire light-sensitive layer of the retina using cell transplantation is the ultimate goal of the stem cell treatments for blindness we are all working towards,” said Robert MacLaren at Oxford.
Experts warn red wine could mask testosterone levels
Researchers from London’s Kingston University found that red wine increases blood testosterone levels and reduces the amount excreted, which could distort the results of urine tests. This effect is produced by quercetin, a compound in red wine that blocks the action of an enzyme responsible for the renal excretion of testosterone. Red wine extracts and other foods and supplements appear to have the same influence, with inter- and intra-individual variations depending on factors such as weight, fitness, health and diet. The research follows an earlier study that showed that green and white tea also could inhibit testosterone excretion.
Hearing restored after noise damage
Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School have used a drug to regenerate hair cells in the cochleae of deaf mice. The drug works by inhibiting the enzyme gamma-secretase. When applied to the cochlea, it blocked the signals generated by a certain protein on the surface of supporting cells that surround hair cells. This chain of reactions led to the differentiation of supporting cells into new hair cells, resulting in hearing improvements. Albert Edge, an associate professor of otology and laryngology, states that these results are “a step forward in the biology of regeneration and prove that mammalian hair cells have the capacity to regenerate.”
Costly breast cancer screenings don’t add up to better outcomes, Yale study finds
The effectiveness and efficiency of breast-cancer screening programs have been questioned by researchers at Yale School of Medicine, who evaluated breast cancer expenditures (i.e., the cost of screening, associated work-up and treatment). “Although screening costs varied more than two-fold across geographic regions, there was no evidence that higher expenditures were benefiting women living in the high-cost regions,” said Cary Gross, associate professor of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine and director of the COPPER Center at Yale.
This news roundup was compiled by ASBMB Today contributor Teodora Donisan (firstname.lastname@example.org), a medical student at Carol Davila University in Bucharest, Romania. Send links of interest to email@example.com for possible inclusion in future issues.