About Anna Meldolesi

science writer

Ground-cherries: will they be the next berry crop?

physalis

Physalis fruits look like golden marbles, larger than a blueberry, smaller than a grape. Carl Zimmer tried one, liked the rich pineapple-orange taste and wrote about their crispy future in his new book (“She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity”). Ground-cherries, as they are called, belong to the same family as tomatoes but are an impossible challenge for traditional breeding because they have four copies of each chromosome rather than two. Continue reading

CRISPRing the Neanderthal’s mind

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Sapiens vs Neanderthalized brain organoids (credit A. Muotri)

Taking a peek into the brain of a Neanderthal specimen would be a dream for whoever is interested in the evolution of human intelligence. To get an idea of the cognitive abilities of our closest relatives, so far, anthropologists and neuroscientists could only study the fossil and archaeological record, but a new exciting frontier is opening up where paleogenetics meets organoids and CRISPR technologies. By combining these approaches, two labs are independently developing mini-brains from human pluripotent stem cells edited to carry Neanderthal mutations. Alysson Muotri did it at UC San Diego, as Jon Cohen reported in Science last week. Svante Pääbo is doing it at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, as revealed by The Guardian in May. Forget George Church’s adventurous thoughts on cloning Neanderthals. The purpose here is to answer one of the most captivating questions ever asked: did the mind of these ancient men and women, who interbred with our sapiens ancestors before going extinct, work differently from ours? Last but not least, with respect to the ethics of experimenting with mini-brains, don’t miss the perspective published in Nature.

The CRISPR world we live in

crispr distribution

“As of January 2018 Addgene has distributed more than 100,000 CRISPR plasmids to 3,400 laboratories worldwide. More than 6,300 CRISPR-related plasmids have been developed by over 330 academic labs and deposited into Addgene’s collection. Geographically, new CRISPR plasmids have been developed and deposited to Addgene’s collection from the Americas (led by the United States), Europe (led by Denmark), Asia (led by China), and Oceania (led by Australia), and shipped to some 75 countries.” [Reference: Enabling the Rise of a CRISPR World, Caroline M. LaManna and Rodolphe Barrangou, The CRISPR Journal, Vol. 1, n. 3, 2018]

CRISPR and the cancer link. Who said what?

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Credit: Ernesto del Aguila III, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH

A pair of papers published in Nature Medicine have caused a stir about CRISPR-edited cells lacking a well-known tumor suppressor gene. STAT is doing an online chat next week to follow up the news. In the meantime, this is a sample of how the CRISPR community is commenting the story. Continue reading

From antisense to CRISPR. Q&A with Ed Wild

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Dr Ed Wild at the Vatican with co-discoverer of the HD gene – Nancy Wexler

Ed Wild of University College London is a leading scientist and the international coordinator (with Sarah Tabrizi) in a very promising trial using antisense oligonucleotide technology in Huntington patients. This is the interview he gave me before attending the Huntington’s Days 2018 meeting in Turin, Italy.  Continue reading