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Science Policy Around the Web – April 3, 2018

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By: Allison Dennis, B.S.

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source: pixabay

Gene Editing

CRISPR’d Food, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You

The United States Department of Agriculture has given a green light to plant breeders to use gene-editing technology to produce plant varieties that could have been made the old fashioned way. Traditionally, simple changes in genes have been cultivated in crops through selective breeding over generations, which relies on the naturally occurring mutations in the genome to produce new traits. In more recent history, would-be crop innovators rapidly introduced DNA changes to crop genes through mutagens such as radiation, vastly increasing the chances of producing a desirable genetic change in the next generation.

The first product of the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to officially go unregulated was a variety of white button mushrooms whose genome was edited to resist browning. The mushroom was engineered by making a small deletion in its polyphenol oxidase gene, preventing the organism from making the enzyme that interacts with oxygen in the air to form melanins, think of that green bowl of guacamole on your counter slowly turning brown. Since this process did not introduce any new genetic material, the USDA ruled that it would not be regulated.

The USDA and FDA are currently drafting policy to oversee whether foods derived by this impossibly-sped-up-but-otherwise-natural method of crop development will need to be specifically labeled to inform the consumer. However US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has made clear that under his direction the “USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present.”

(Megan Molteni, Wired)

 

Personalized Medicine

Anyone Can Now Take This Breast Cancer Gene Test, But It Probably Won’t Tell You Much

The personalized DNA testing company, 23andMe has had mixed success seeking FDA approval, but may have taken a step closer medical validity this month. The FDA has approved their direct-to-consumer genetic test which can identify three variants of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which are associated with an increase in the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. From the comfort of their home, curious patients can spit in a tube that comes at a $199 price tag to learn their result on a panel of FDA approved Genetic Health Risk reports. However, the real value of such diagnostic tests, remains a point of debate.

Because the test will only capture a subset of the known genetic markers for cancer risk, 23andMe stresses that a negative result “cannot rule out your chances of getting cancer.” In fact, most women who are diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer have no known genetic factors. Those who receive a positive test are still advised to validate their results and seek counseling from a medical professional. The company has conceded the value for such direct-to-consumer genetic tests may be the simple act of raising awareness and inspiring them to take a more proactive role in their healthcare.

(Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 3, 2018 at 11:47 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 7, 2017

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By: Kseniya Golovnina, PhD

Cancer Research

RNA-Seq Technology for Oncotargets Discovery

One of the most significant discoveries in cancer research, using the “Big Data” approach with experimental validations, was made recently by Chinese and American scientists together with Splicingcodes.com. They described the first cancer predisposition, familially-inherited, fusion gene, KANSARL, specific to populations with European ancestry, by using advanced RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) of cancer transcriptomes.

A fusion gene is a hybrid formed from two previously separate genes as a result of chromosomal rearrangements. Often, fusion genes are oncogenes. The first fusion gene abnormality was described in a human malignancy and was called the Philadelphia chromosome. In the early 1980s, scientists showed that a translocation between chromosomes 9 and 22 led to the formation of a fusion gene (BCR/ABL1), which produced a chimeric protein with the capacity to induce chronic myeloid leukemia. KANSARL is the most prevalent cancer gene discovered so far. Scientists systematically analyzed the RNA-seq data of many cancer types from different parts of the world, together with RNA-seq datasets of the 1000 Genome Project. KANSARL fusion transcripts were rarely detected in tumor samples of patients from Asia or Africa, but occurred specifically in 28.9% of the population of European origin.

Scientists from Cancer Genome Anatomy project at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), using sophisticated sequencing techniques, have identified 10,676 gene fusions among cancer-related chromosomal aberrations. Splicingcodes.com has identified over 1.1 million novel fusion transcripts, many of which are likely biomarkers of diseases. Fusion genes play an important role in diagnosis and monitoring of cancer treatment progress by measuring the disappearance of the fusion and, thereby, the disappearance of the tumor tissue. Currently, several clinical trials are aimed at treating fusion-positive patients with a range of targeted therapies, which will hopefully lead to novel therapy development and save patients’ lives. (Splicingcodes)

Biotechnology

Turning Mammalian Cells into Biocomputers to Treat Human Disease

Engineering cells by manipulating DNA and controlling their performance is a growing field of synthetic biology. Scientists have been working with bacterial cells for years to perform different controlled actions, for example, lighting up when oxygen levels drops. Bacterial cells, including Escherichia coli, have a simple genome structure and are relatively easy to manipulate. Using bacterial cells, it was possible also to join several genetic circuits within a single cell to carry out more complex actions.

After successful engineering in bacteria, researchers have aimed to create genetic circuitry to detect and treat human disease in mammalian cells. Most of the attempts have failed due to the complexity of the mammalian genome, until a group of biomedical engineers from Boston and Basel, Switzerland decided to upgrade their DNA “switches”. They used an ability of special enzymes, DNA recombinases, to selectively cut and stitch DNA. The new system in mammalian cells is called ‘Boolean logic and arithmetic through DNA excision’ (BLADE). BLADE founders built a wide variety of circuits (113), each designed to carry out a different logical operation with 96.5% success. This Boolean system has great potential for applications in cell and tissue engineering. One exciting possibility is engineering T-cells with genetic circuits that initiate a suicide response to kill tumors when they detect the presence of two or three “biomarkers” produced by cancer cells. (Robert F. Service, ScienceNews)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 7, 2017 at 9:22 am