Genetically Modifying Individual Cells—Method Promises to Greatly Speed Up Research on Complex Diseases

With the new method, the cells in individual organs of animals can be genetically modified in a mosaic-like manner (symbol image generated with Midjourney). (Credit: ETH Zurich)

One proven method for tracking down the genetic causes of diseases is to knock out a single gene in animals and study the consequences this has for the organism. The problem is that for many diseases, the pathology is determined by multiple genes. This makes it extremely difficult for scientists to determine the extent to which any one of the genes is involved in the disease. To do this, they would have to perform many animal experiments – one for each desired gene modification. Researchers led by Randall Platt, PhD, Professor of Biological Engineering at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel, have now developed a method that will greatly simplify and speed up research with laboratory animals: using the CRISPR-Cas gene scissors, they simultaneously make several dozen gene changes in the cells of a single animal, much like a mosaic. While no more than one gene is altered in each cell, the various cells within an organ are altered in different ways. Individual cells can then be precisely analysed. This enables researchers to study the ramifications of many different gene changes in a single experiment.

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Researchers Develop Novel Photo-Oxidation Therapy for Anticancer Treatment

A research team led by scientists from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has achieved a significant breakthrough by inventing a new class of near-infrared-activated photo-oxidants that can effectively kill cancer cells without requiring oxygen. The photo-oxidants induce a unique form of cancer cell death that can overcome cancer cell resistance. The findings offer a new strategy, called “photo-oxidation therapy,” and provide a promising direction for the development of anti-cancer drugs.

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A Newly Identified Virus Emerges from the Deep

The Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth, plunges nearly 11,000 meters (6.8 miles) at its lowest point on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Life persists in the deep and cold darkness, and “wherever there’s life, you can bet there are regulators at work,” said marine virologist Min Wang, PhD, at the Ocean University of China, in Qingdao, China. “Viruses, in this case.” On September 20, 2023 in Microbiology Spectrum, Dr. Wang and an international group of researchers report the discovery of a new virus isolated from sediment brought up from a depth of 8,900 meters. The virus is a bacteriophage, or a virus that infects and replicates inside bacteria, and bacteriophages are believed to be the most abundant life forms on the planet. “To our best knowledge, this is the deepest known isolated phage in the global ocean,” said Dr. Wang. The open-access article is titled “Identification and Genomic Analysis of Temperate Halomonas Bacteriophage vB_HmeY_H4907 from the Surface Sediment of the Mariana Trench at a Depth of 8,900 m.”

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Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart Joins University of Hong Kong As Chair Professor of Chemistry

On September 19, 2023, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) announced the appointment of Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart, a distinguished chemist and Nobel Laureate (Chemistry, 2016), as a Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science. “I look upon my role as a professor to be more about mentoring and helping young people to come up with fresh ideas and fulfil their ambitions in their research endeavors. By my providing lots of support, they can explore their ideas, bring them to fruition, and produce results that end up being published in the high-profile scientific literature,” said Professor Stoddart. Professor Stoddart brings with him a wealth of experience and expertise in the fields of chemistry, materials science, and molecular nanotechnology. He has served as a Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University in the United States for the past 16 years.

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Feature Article in Nature Describes History and Potential of Exosome/EV Research

On September 19, 2023, a feature news article on exosomes/extracellular vesicles (EVs) was published in Nature. The in-depth article, authored by Alison Abbott, is titled “FedEx for Your Cells: This Biological Delivery Service Could Treat Disease.” The detailed article traces the history of exosome discovery and research and describes the potential for these novel information-carrying vesicles for use in the treatment and prevention of disease. We, at BioQuick News, highly recommend this article for those interested in the exciting and accelerating progress of exosome/EV research over the last two decades. We also recommend that readers further pursue their interest in exosomes/EVs by browsing through the extensive collection of exosome/EV stories (>500) in BioQuick News.

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Tiny Sea Creatures Reveal Ancient Origins of Neurons


A study in the journal Cell sheds new light on the evolution of neurons, focusing on the placozoans, a millimeter-sized marine animal. Researchers at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain find evidence that specialized secretory cells found in these unique and ancient creatures may have given rise to neurons in more complex animals. The open-access Cell article was published on September 19, 2023 and is titled “Stepwise Emergence of the Neuronal Gene Expression Program in Early Animal Evolution.” Placozoans are tiny animals, around the size of a large grain of sand, which graze on algae and microbes living on the surface of rocks and other substrates found in shallow, warm seas. The blob-like and pancake-shaped creatures are so simple that they live without any body parts or organs. These animals, thought to have first appeared on Earth around 800 million years ago, are one of the five main lineages of animals alongside Ctenophora (comb jellies), Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (corals, sea anemones and jellyfish) and Bilateria (all other animals). The sea creatures coordinate their behavior thanks to peptidergic cells, special types of cells that release small peptides which can direct the animal’s movement or feeding. Driven by the intrigue of the origin of these cells, the authors of the study employed an array of molecular techniques and computational models to understand how placozoan cell types evolved and piece together how our ancient ancestors might have looked and functioned. 

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Clue to Switching Off the Cytokine Storm; Scientists Describe Architecture of Key Two-Kinase Complex That Acts As Final Switch to Trigger Inflammatory Response

Matthew Bowler, PhD

Constant exposure of cells to stressing agents, such as pathogens, may disturb an organism’s normal functioning. To fight stress, cells have developed several coping mechanisms, including the inflammatory response. While inflammation is necessary, too much of it can impair cell and organ function. This is the case with cytokine storms – inflammatory cascades during an infection that can spiral out of control and lead to severe disease and even death, as recently highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a new paper published September 14, 2023 in Science, EMBL Grenoble and University of Geneva researchers provide essential insights on a protein called p38α, belonging to the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) family, which is an important cellular “switch” triggering the inflammatory response. The scientists have obtained the first structure of p38α being activated by another regulatory protein kinase–MKK6–opening up new directions to develop drugs to stop cytokine storms. The Science article is titled “Architecture of the MKK6-p38α Complex Defines the Basis of MAPK Specificity and Activation.”

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Step Forward in Characterizing Hereditary Blindness Identifies Key Metabolic Pathways to Address in Possible Future Treatments

Professor Gemma Marfany
There are still many enigmas about the mechanism of action of the CERKL (ceramide-kinase-like) gene, which, when mutated, causes retinitis pigmentosa and other hereditary vision diseases. Now, a team from the University of Barcelona has described how lack of the CERKL gene alters the ability of retinal cells to fight oxidative stress generated by light and triggers cell death mechanisms that cause blindness. The new study, conducted in mice and published September 1, 2023 in the journal Redox Biology, is a step forward in characterizing hereditary blindness and identifying key mechanisms to address future treatments based on precision medicine. The open-access article is titled “Exacerbated Response to Oxidative Stress in the Retinitis Pigmentosa CerklKD/KO Mouse Model Triggers Retinal Degeneration Pathways Upon Acute Light Stress.”

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New Drug Class (Senolytics) Prevents Key Aging Mechanism in Organ Transplants in Mice; Study by Harvard and Mayo Clinic Researchers Offers Possible Approach to Combating Donor Shortage

Pioneering research, presented at the European Society for Organ Transplantation (ESOT) Congress 2023 (September 17-20), opens promising avenues for expanding the organ donor pool and enhancing patient outcomes. By transplanting older donor organs into younger recipients, researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic investigated the role of transplantation in inducing senescence, a biological mechanism linked to aging and age-related diseases. The researchers conducted age-disparate heart transplants from both young (3 months) and old (18–21 months) mice into younger recipients. Recipients of old hearts showed augmented frequencies of senescent cells in draining lymph nodes, livers, and muscles, in addition to augmented systemic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) levels, compared to recipients that received young grafts. Strikingly, transplanting old organs led to advanced physical and cognitive impairments in recipients. 

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