Weekly Mashup #18

The Synthetic Biology Mashup is a weekly review of articles and news related to synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. While we share most of this on our twitter feed, if you need to catch up on this week’s news just read ahead!

Making 100 the new 60?

This week, Craig Venter launched a new company, Human Longevity Inc, in collaboration with the founder of X Prize, Dr. Peter Diamandis, and founder and CSO of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, Dr. Robert Hariri. The company aims to study human genome, microbiome, metabolome and stem cells. The scope of the project is very large: up to 100,000 human genomes will be sequenced per year. Not only that, data will also be collected on patients’ biochemicals and lipids in circulation. Through a better understanding of the process of aging, Human Longevity hopes to improve health throughout the aging process. As Peter Diamandis summarizes it, the “goal is to make 100-years-old the new 60.”

Potential New HIV Treatment Through Gene Therapy

Carl June’s team published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine a small but highly promising study in which the immune systems of HIV-positive patients were genetically modified to confer HIV resistance. The team collected patients’ T-cells and removed the gene for the CC5 receptor in 11-28% of the cells through the use of zinc finger nucleases (proteins capable of recognising specific DNA sequences, provided by Sangamo Biosciences). The removal of the CC5 receptor renders T-cells impenetrable to HIV. The genetically-modified T-cells were reintroduced into the patients’ bodies. Only 12 patients participated in the study. Following the treatment, half of the patients were taken off of their antiretroviral drugs. Four of these 6 patients completed the twelve-week antiretroviral interruption and all 4 presented reduced HIV-levels in their blood at the end of the twelve weeks. Interestingly, the patient who responded best to this treatment was heterozygous for the CCR5-delta32 mutation, a rare recessive mutation which prevents CC5 receptor expression. It has previously been established that homozygotes (people carrying two copies of the CCR5-delta32 mutation) are virtually immune to HIV. This study highlights the potential of genome-editing techniques as a safe and feasible method for the treatment of disease.

Scientists May Be a Step Closer to Easier Genetic Manipulation of Plants

The Gelvin team at Purdue University has identified a gene, published this past week in Science Signalling, called MTF1. This gene is responsible for plant susceptibility to the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The most common technique for transgenic plant creation uses Agrobacterium as a vehicle for gene transfer. However, many plant species are resistant to this bacterium and are thus much more difficult to genetically modify. The team discovered this gene in Arabadopsis, but bioinformatics analysis reveals that this same gene is present in many other crop plants including corn, soybeans, wheat, oilseed rape, cacao, and rice. These findings may have important implications for the development of genetically modified plants.

Targeted Protein Removal with “Ubiquibodies”

To facilitate the targeting and elimination of specific proteins, researchers at Cornell engineered molecules they call ubiquibodies. These work by harnessing the cells’ ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, which is a pathway used to denature and remove proteins by tagging them with ubiquitin, and then denaturing them in the proteasome. Researchers modified one of the key proteins used in ubiquitin tagging, the CHIP enzyme, to tag any desired protein. This technique should prove useful both in the study of proteins and their function. Therapeutic applications such as targeting proteins involved in Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s are currently being researched by DeLisa, one of the researchers involved in the project.

Synthetic Biology Flash News

Prof James J Collins from Boston University joins Agilis Biotherapeutics Scientific Advisory Board few months after their new Collaboration with Intrexon.

The New York Times explained in detail this week the mechanism, history and significance of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique.

Intrexon Corporation completed this week the acquisition of Medistem, a company focussing on the development and commercialisation of adult-derived stem cells. The goal of Intrexon is to genetically modify these cells and use them as vehicles for the delivery of therapeutic effectors.

The Synthetic Aesthetics book has been published this week by the MIT press. Written by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Jane Calvert, Pablo Schyfter, Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy, it explores the role of design in synthetic biology.

That’s it for this week’s Synthetic Biology Mashup! A suggestion or a question? Shoot us an email!

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