Archive for the ‘Disease Biology’ Category

Genomic data can predict miscarriage and IVF failure

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

Infertility is a major reproductive health issue that affects about 12% of women of reproductive age in the United States. Aneuploidy in eggs accounts for a significant proportion of early miscarriage and in vitro fertilization failure. Recent studies have shown that genetic variants in several genes affect chromosome segregation fidelity and predispose women to a higher incidence of egg aneuploidy. However, the exact genetic causes of aneuploid egg production remain unclear, making it difficult to diagnose infertility based on individual genetic variants in mother’s genome. Although, age is a predictive factor for aneuploidy, it is not a highly accurate gauge because aneuploidy rates within individuals of the same age can vary dramatically.

Researchers described a technique combining genomic sequencing with machine-learning methods to predict the possibility a woman will undergo a miscarriage because of egg aneuploidy—a term describing a human egg with an abnormal number of chromosomes. The scientists were able to examine genetic samples of patients using a technique called “whole exome sequencing,” which allowed researchers to home in on the protein coding sections of the vast human genome. Then they created software using machine learning, an aspect of artificial intelligence in which programs can learn and make predictions without following specific instructions. To do so, the researchers developed algorithms and statistical models that analyzed and drew inferences from patterns in the genetic data.

As a result, the scientists were able to create a specific risk score based on a woman’s genome. The scientists also identified three genes—MCM5, FGGY and DDX60L—that when mutated and are highly associated with a risk of producing eggs with aneuploidy. So, the report demonstrated that sequencing data can be mined to predict patients’ aneuploidy risk thus improving clinical diagnosis. The candidate genes and pathways that were identified in the present study are promising targets for future aneuploidy studies. Identifying genetic variations with more predictive power will serve women and their treating clinicians with better information.







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The Human Genome Gets Fully Sequenced: A Simplistic Take on Century Long Effort


Curator: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

Ever since the hard work by Rosalind Franklin to deduce structures of DNA and the coincidental work by Francis Crick and James Watson who modeled the basic building blocks of DNA, DNA has been considered as the basic unit of heredity and life, with the “Central Dogma” (DNA to RNA to Protein) at its core.  These were the discoveries in the early twentieth century, and helped drive the transformational shift of biological experimentation, from protein isolation and characterization to cloning protein-encoding genes to characterizing how the genes are expressed temporally, spatially, and contextually.

Rosalind Franklin, who’s crystolagraphic data led to determination of DNA structure. Shown as 1953 Time cover as Time person of the Year

Dr Francis Crick and James Watson in front of their model structure of DNA










Up to this point (1970s-mid 80s) , it was felt that genetic information was rather static, and the goal was still to understand and characterize protein structure and function while an understanding of the underlying genetic information was more important for efforts like linkage analysis of genetic defects and tools for the rapidly developing field of molecular biology.  But the development of the aforementioned molecular biology tools including DNA cloning, sequencing and synthesis, gave scientists the idea that a whole recording of the human genome might be possible and worth the effort.

How the Human Genome Project  Expanded our View of Genes Genetic Material and Biological Processes



From the Human Genome Project Information Archive

Source:  https://web.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/project/hgp.shtml

History of the Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project (HGP) refers to the international 13-year effort, formally begun in October 1990 and completed in 2003, to discover all the estimated 20,000-25,000 human genes and make them accessible for further biological study. Another project goal was to determine the complete sequence of the 3 billion DNA subunits (bases in the human genome). As part of the HGP, parallel studies were carried out on selected model organisms such as the bacterium E. coli and the mouse to help develop the technology and interpret human gene function. The DOE Human Genome Program and the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) together sponsored the U.S. Human Genome Project.


Please see the following for goals, timelines, and funding for this project


History of the Project

It is interesting to note that multiple government legislation is credited for the funding of such a massive project including

Project Enabling Legislation

  • The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-585) provided the initial charter for a comprehensive program of research and development related to the utilization of fissionable and radioactive materials for medical, biological, and health purposes.
  • The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (P.L. 83-706) further authorized the AEC “to conduct research on the biologic effects of ionizing radiation.”
  • The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-438) provided that responsibilities of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) shall include “engaging in and supporting environmental, biomedical, physical, and safety research related to the development of energy resources and utilization technologies.”
  • The Federal Non-nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-577) authorized ERDA to conduct a comprehensive non-nuclear energy research, development, and demonstration program to include the environmental and social consequences of the various technologies.
  • The DOE Organization Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-91) mandated the Department “to assure incorporation of national environmental protection goals in the formulation and implementation of energy programs; and to advance the goal of restoring, protecting, and enhancing environmental quality, and assuring public health and safety,” and to conduct “a comprehensive program of research and development on the environmental effects of energy technology and program.”

It should also be emphasized that the project was not JUST funded through NIH but also Department of Energy

Project Sponsors

For a great read on Dr. Craig Ventnor with interviews with the scientist see Dr. Larry Bernstein’s excellent post The Human Genome Project


By 2003 we had gained much information about the structure of DNA, genes, exons, introns and allowed us to gain more insights into the diversity of genetic material and the underlying protein coding genes as well as many of the gene-expression regulatory elements.  However there was much uninvestigated material dispersed between genes, the then called “junk DNA” and, up to 2003 not much was known about the function of this ‘junk DNA’.  In addition there were two other problems:

  • The reference DNA used was actually from one person (Craig Ventor who was the lead initiator of the project)
  • Multiple gaps in the DNA sequence existed, and needed to be filled in

It is important to note that a tremendous amount of diversity of protein has been realized from both transcriptomic and proteomic studies.  Although about 20 to 25,000 coding genes exist the human proteome contains about 600,000 proteoforms (due to alternative splicing, posttranslational modifications etc.)

This expansion of the proteoform via alternate splicing into isoforms, gene duplication to paralogs has been shown to have major effects on, for example, cellular signaling pathways (1)

However just recently it has been reported that the FULL human genome has been sequenced and is complete and verified.  This was the focus of a recent issue in the journal Science.

Source: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abj6987


Since its initial release in 2000, the human reference genome has covered only the euchromatic fraction of the genome, leaving important heterochromatic regions unfinished. Addressing the remaining 8% of the genome, the Telomere-to-Telomere (T2T) Consortium presents a complete 3.055 billion–base pair sequence of a human genome, T2T-CHM13, that includes gapless assemblies for all chromosomes except Y, corrects errors in the prior references, and introduces nearly 200 million base pairs of sequence containing 1956 gene predictions, 99 of which are predicted to be protein coding. The completed regions include all centromeric satellite arrays, recent segmental duplications, and the short arms of all five acrocentric chromosomes, unlocking these complex regions of the genome to variational and functional studies.


The current human reference genome was released by the Genome Reference Consortium (GRC) in 2013 and most recently patched in 2019 (GRCh38.p13) (1). This reference traces its origin to the publicly funded Human Genome Project (2) and has been continually improved over the past two decades. Unlike the competing Celera effort (3) and most modern sequencing projects based on “shotgun” sequence assembly (4), the GRC assembly was constructed from sequenced bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) that were ordered and oriented along the human genome by means of radiation hybrid, genetic linkage, and fingerprint maps. However, limitations of BAC cloning led to an underrepresentation of repetitive sequences, and the opportunistic assembly of BACs derived from multiple individuals resulted in a mosaic of haplotypes. As a result, several GRC assembly gaps are unsolvable because of incompatible structural polymorphisms on their flanks, and many other repetitive and polymorphic regions were left unfinished or incorrectly assembled (5).


Fig. 1. Summary of the complete T2T-CHM13 human genome assembly.
(A) Ideogram of T2T-CHM13v1.1 assembly features. For each chromosome (chr), the following information is provided from bottom to top: gaps and issues in GRCh38 fixed by CHM13 overlaid with the density of genes exclusive to CHM13 in red; segmental duplications (SDs) (42) and centromeric satellites (CenSat) (30); and CHM13 ancestry predictions (EUR, European; SAS, South Asian; EAS, East Asian; AMR, ad-mixed American). Bottom scale is measured in Mbp. (B and C) Additional (nonsyntenic) bases in the CHM13 assembly relative to GRCh38 per chromosome, with the acrocentrics highlighted in black (B) and by sequence type (C). (Note that the CenSat and SD annotations overlap.) RepMask, RepeatMasker. (D) Total nongap bases in UCSC reference genome releases dating back to September 2000 (hg4) and ending with T2T-CHM13 in 2021. Mt/Y/Ns, mitochondria, chrY, and gaps.

Note in Figure 1D the exponential growth in genetic information.

Also very important is the ability to determine all the paralogs, isoforms, areas of potential epigenetic regulation, gene duplications, and transposable elements that exist within the human genome.

Analyses and resources

A number of companion studies were carried out to characterize the complete sequence of a human genome, including comprehensive analyses of centromeric satellites (30), segmental duplications (42), transcriptional (49) and epigenetic profiles (29), mobile elements (49), and variant calls (25). Up to 99% of the complete CHM13 genome can be confidently mapped with long-read sequencing, opening these regions of the genome to functional and variational analysis (23) (fig. S38 and table S14). We have produced a rich collection of annotations and omics datasets for CHM13—including RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) (30), Iso-seq (21), precision run-on sequencing (PRO-seq) (49), cleavage under targets and release using nuclease (CUT&RUN) (30), and ONT methylation (29) experiments—and have made these datasets available via a centralized University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Assembly Hub genome browser (54).


To highlight the utility of these genetic and epigenetic resources mapped to a complete human genome, we provide the example of a segmentally duplicated region of the chromosome 4q subtelomere that is associated with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) (55). This region includes FSHD region gene 1 (FRG1), FSHD region gene 2 (FRG2), and an intervening D4Z4 macrosatellite repeat containing the double homeobox 4 (DUX4) gene that has been implicated in the etiology of FSHD (56). Numerous duplications of this region throughout the genome have complicated past genetic analyses of FSHD.

The T2T-CHM13 assembly reveals 23 paralogs of FRG1 spread across all acrocentric chromosomes as well as chromosomes 9 and 20 (Fig. 5A). This gene appears to have undergone recent amplification in the great apes (57), and approximate locations of FRG1 paralogs were previously identified by FISH (58). However, only nine FRG1 paralogs are found in GRCh38, hampering sequence-based analysis.

Future of the human reference genome

The T2T-CHM13 assembly adds five full chromosome arms and more additional sequence than any genome reference release in the past 20 years (Fig. 1D). This 8% of the genome has not been overlooked because of a lack of importance but rather because of technological limitations. High-accuracy long-read sequencing has finally removed this technological barrier, enabling comprehensive studies of genomic variation across the entire human genome, which we expect to drive future discovery in human genomic health and disease. Such studies will necessarily require a complete and accurate human reference genome.

CHM13 lacks a Y chromosome, and homozygous Y-bearing CHMs are nonviable, so a different sample type will be required to complete this last remaining chromosome. However, given its haploid nature, it should be possible to assemble the Y chromosome from a male sample using the same methods described here and supplement the T2T-CHM13 reference assembly with a Y chromosome as needed.

Extending beyond the human reference genome, large-scale resequencing projects have revealed genomic variation across human populations. Our reanalyses of the 1KGP (25) and SGDP (42) datasets have already shown the advantages of T2T-CHM13, even for short-read analyses. However, these studies give only a glimpse of the extensive structural variation that lies within the most repetitive regions of the genome assembled here. Long-read resequencing studies are now needed to comprehensively survey polymorphic variation and reveal any phenotypic associations within these regions.

Although CHM13 represents a complete human haplotype, it does not capture the full diversity of human genetic variation. To address this bias, the Human Pangenome Reference Consortium (59) has joined with the T2T Consortium to build a collection of high-quality reference haplotypes from a diverse set of samples. Ideally, all genomes could be assembled at the quality achieved here, but automated T2T assembly of diploid genomes presents a difficult challenge that will require continued development. Until this goal is realized, and any human genome can be completely sequenced without error, the T2T-CHM13 assembly represents a more complete, representative, and accurate reference than GRCh38.


This paper was the focus of a Time article and their basis for making the lead authors part of their Time 100 people of the year.


The Human Genome Is Finally Fully Sequenced

Source: https://time.com/6163452/human-genome-fully-sequenced/


The first human genome was mapped in 2001 as part of the Human Genome Project, but researchers knew it was neither complete nor completely accurate. Now, scientists have produced the most completely sequenced human genome to date, filling in gaps and correcting mistakes in the previous version.

The sequence is the most complete reference genome for any mammal so far. The findings from six new papers describing the genome, which were published in Science, should lead to a deeper understanding of human evolution and potentially reveal new targets for addressing a host of diseases.

A more precise human genome

“The Human Genome Project relied on DNA obtained through blood draws; that was the technology at the time,” says Adam Phillippy, head of genome informatics at the National Institutes of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and senior author of one of the new papers. “The techniques at the time introduced errors and gaps that have persisted all of these years. It’s nice now to fill in those gaps and correct those mistakes.”

“We always knew there were parts missing, but I don’t think any of us appreciated how extensive they were, or how interesting,” says Michael Schatz, professor of computer science and biology at Johns Hopkins University and another senior author of the same paper.

The work is the result of the Telomere to Telomere consortium, which is supported by NHGRI and involves genetic and computational biology experts from dozens of institutes around the world. The group focused on filling in the 8% of the human genome that remained a genetic black hole from the first draft sequence. Since then, geneticists have been trying to add those missing portions bit by bit. The latest group of studies identifies about an entire chromosome’s worth of new sequences, representing 200 million more base pairs (the letters making up the genome) and 1,956 new genes.


NOTE: In 2001 many scientists postulated there were as much as 100,000 coding human genes however now we understand there are about 20,000 to 25,000 human coding genes.  This does not however take into account the multiple diversity obtained from alternate splicing, gene duplications, SNPs, and chromosomal rearrangements.

Scientists were also able to sequence the long stretches of DNA that contained repeated sequences, which genetic experts originally thought were similar to copying errors and dismissed as so-called “junk DNA”. These repeated sequences, however, may play roles in certain human diseases. “Just because a sequence is repetitive doesn’t mean it’s junk,” says Eichler. He points out that critical genes are embedded in these repeated regions—genes that contribute to machinery that creates proteins, genes that dictate how cells divide and split their DNA evenly into their two daughter cells, and human-specific genes that might distinguish the human species from our closest evolutionary relatives, the primates. In one of the papers, for example, researchers found that primates have different numbers of copies of these repeated regions than humans, and that they appear in different parts of the genome.

“These are some of the most important functions that are essential to live, and for making us human,” says Eichler. “Clearly, if you get rid of these genes, you don’t live. That’s not junk to me.”

Deciphering what these repeated sections mean, if anything, and how the sequences of previously unsequenced regions like the centromeres will translate to new therapies or better understanding of human disease, is just starting, says Deanna Church, a vice president at Inscripta, a genome engineering company who wrote a commentary accompanying the scientific articles. Having the full sequence of a human genome is different from decoding it; she notes that currently, of people with suspected genetic disorders whose genomes are sequenced, about half can be traced to specific changes in their DNA. That means much of what the human genome does still remains a mystery.

The investigators in the Telomere to Telomere Consortium made the Time 100 People of the Year.

Michael Schatz, Karen Miga, Evan Eichler, and Adam Phillippy

Illustration by Brian Lutz for Time (Source Photos: Will Kirk—Johns Hopkins University; Nick Gonzales—UC Santa Cruz; Patrick Kehoe; National Human Genome Research Institute)


MAY 23, 2022 6:08 AM EDT

Ever since the draft of the human genome became available in 2001, there has been a nagging question about the genome’s “dark matter”—the parts of the map that were missed the first time through, and what they contained. Now, thanks to Adam Phillippy, Karen Miga, Evan Eichler, Michael Schatz, and the entire Telomere-to-Telomere Consortium (T2T) of scientists that they led, we can see the full map of the human genomic landscape—and there’s much to explore.

In the scientific community, there wasn’t a consensus that mapping these missing parts was necessary. Some in the field felt there was already plenty to do using the data in hand. In addition, overcoming the technical challenges to getting the missing information wasn’t possible until recently. But the more we learn about the genome, the more we understand that every piece of the puzzle is meaningful.

I admire the

T2T group’s willingness to grapple with the technical demands of this project and their persistence in expanding the genome map into uncharted territory. The complete human genome sequence is an invaluable resource that may provide new insights into the origin of diseases and how we can treat them. It also offers the most complete look yet at the genetic script underlying the very nature of who we are as human beings.

Doudna is a biochemist and winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Source: https://time.com/collection/100-most-influential-people-2022/6177818/evan-eichler-karen-miga-adam-phillippy-michael-schatz/

Other articles on the Human Genome Project and Junk DNA in this Open Access Scientific Journal Include:


International Award for Human Genome Project


Cracking the Genome – Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA – quotes in newspapers


The Human Genome Project


Junk DNA and Breast Cancer


A Perspective on Personalized Medicine








Additional References


  1. P. Scalia, A. Giordano, C. Martini, S. J. Williams, Isoform- and Paralog-Switching in IR-Signaling: When Diabetes Opens the Gates to Cancer. Biomolecules 10, (Nov 30, 2020).



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New studies link cell cycle proteins to immunosurveillance of premalignant cells

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

The following is from a Perspectives article in the journal Science by Virinder Reen and Jesus Gil called “Clearing Stressed Cells: Cell cycle arrest produces a p21-dependent secretome that initaites immunosurveillance of premalignant cells”. This is a synopsis of the Sturmlechener et al. research article in the same issue (2).

Complex organisms repair stress-induced damage to limit the replication of faulty cells that could drive cancer. When repair is not possible, tissue homeostasis is maintained by the activation of stress response programs such as apoptosis, which eliminates the cells, or senescence, which arrests them (1). Cellular senescence causes the arrest of damaged cells through the induction of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors (CDKIs) such as p16 and p21 (2). Senescent cells also produce a bioactive secretome (the senescence-associated secretory phenotype, SASP) that places cells under immunosurveillance, which is key to avoiding the detrimental inflammatory effects caused by lingering senescent cells on surrounding tissues. On page 577 of this issue, Sturmlechner et al. (3) report that induction of p21 not only contributes to the arrest of senescent cells, but is also an early signal that primes stressed cells for immunosurveillance.Senescence is a complex program that is tightly regulated at the epigenetic and transcriptional levels. For example, exit from the cell cycle is controlled by the induction of p16 and p21, which inhibit phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein (RB), a transcriptional regulator and tumor suppressor. Hypophosphorylated RB represses transcription of E2F target genes, which are necessary for cell cycle progression. Conversely, production of the SASP is regulated by a complex program that involves super-enhancer (SE) remodeling and activation of transcriptional regulators such as nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) or CCAAT enhancer binding protein–β (C/EBPβ) (4).

Senescence is a complex program that is tightly regulated at the epigenetic and transcriptional levels. For example, exit from the cell cycle is controlled by the induction of p16 and p21, which inhibit phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein (RB), a transcriptional regulator and tumor suppressor. Hypophosphorylated RB represses transcription of E2F target genes, which are necessary for cell cycle progression. Conversely, production of the SASP is regulated by a complex program that involves super-enhancer (SE) remodeling and activation of transcriptional regulators such as nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) or CCAAT enhancer binding protein–β (C/EBPβ) (4).

Sturmlechner et al. found that activation of p21 following stress rapidly halted cell cycle progression and triggered an internal biological timer (of ∼4 days in hepatocytes), allowing time to repair and resolve damage (see the figure). In parallel, C-X-C motif chemokine 14 (CXCL14), a component of the PASP, attracted macrophages to surround and closely surveil these damaged cells. Stressed cells that recovered and normalized p21 expression suspended PASP production and circumvented immunosurveillance. However, if the p21-induced stress was unmanageable, the repair timer expired, and the immune cells transitioned from surveillance to clearance mode. Adjacent macrophages mounted a cytotoxic T lymphocyte response that destroyed damaged cells. Notably, the overexpression of p21 alone was sufficient to orchestrate immune killing of stressed cells, without the need of a senescence phenotype. Overexpression of other CDKIs, such as p16 and p27, did not trigger immunosurveillance, likely because they do not induce CXCL14 expression.In the context of cancer, senescent cell clearance was first observed following reactivation of the tumor suppressor p53 in liver cancer cells. Restoring p53 signaling induced senescence and triggered the elimination of senescent cells by the innate immune system, prompting tumor regression (5). Subsequent work has revealed that the SASP alerts the immune system to target preneoplastic senescent cells. Hepatocytes expressing the oncogenic mutant NRASG12V (Gly12→Val) become senescent and secrete chemokines and cytokines that trigger CD4+ T cell–mediated clearance (6). Despite the relevance for tumor suppression, relatively little is known about how immunosurveillance of oncogene-induced senescent cells is initiated and controlled.

Source of image: Reen, V. and Gil, J. Clearing Stressed Cells. Science Perspectives 2021;Vol 374(6567) p 534-535.


2. Sturmlechner I, Zhang C, Sine CC, van Deursen EJ, Jeganathan KB, Hamada N, Grasic J, Friedman D, Stutchman JT, Can I, Hamada M, Lim DY, Lee JH, Ordog T, Laberge RM, Shapiro V, Baker DJ, Li H, van Deursen JM. p21 produces a bioactive secretome that places stressed cells under immunosurveillance. Science. 2021 Oct 29;374(6567):eabb3420. doi: 10.1126/science.abb3420. Epub 2021 Oct 29. PMID: 34709885.

More Articles on Cancer, Senescence and the Immune System in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal Include

Bispecific and Trispecific Engagers: NK-T Cells and Cancer Therapy

Natural Killer Cell Response: Treatment of Cancer

Issues Need to be Resolved With ImmunoModulatory Therapies: NK cells, mAbs, and adoptive T cells

New insights in cancer, cancer immunogenesis and circulating cancer cells

Insight on Cell Senescence

Immune System Stimulants: Articles of Note @pharmaceuticalintelligence.com

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UK Biobank Makes Available 200,000 whole genomes Open Access

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

The following is a summary of an article by Jocelyn Kaiser, published in the November 26, 2021 issue of the journal Science.

To see the full article please go to https://www.science.org/content/article/200-000-whole-genomes-made-available-biomedical-studies-uk-effort

The UK Biobank (UKBB) this week unveiled to scientists the entire genomes of 200,000 people who are part of a long-term British health study.

The trove of genomes, each linked to anonymized medical information, will allow biomedical scientists to scour the full 3 billion base pairs of human DNA for insights into the interplay of genes and health that could not be gleaned from partial sequences or scans of genome markers. “It is thrilling to see the release of this long-awaited resource,” says Stephen Glatt, a psychiatric geneticist at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University.

Other biobanks have also begun to compile vast numbers of whole genomes, 100,000 or more in some cases (see table, below). But UKBB stands out because it offers easy access to the genomic information, according to some of the more than 20,000 researchers in 90 countries who have signed up to use the data. “In terms of availability and data quality, [UKBB] surpasses all others,” says physician and statistician Omar Yaxmehen Bello-Chavolla of the National Institute for Geriatrics in Mexico City.

Enabling your vision to improve public health

Data drives discovery. We have curated a uniquely powerful biomedical database that can be accessed globally for public health research. Explore data from half a million UK Biobank participants to enable new discoveries to improve public health.

Data Showcase

Future data releases

This UKBB biobank represents genomes collected from 500,000 middle-age and elderly participants for 2006 to 2010. The genomes are mostly of a European descent. Other large scale genome sequencing ventures like Iceland’s DECODE, which collected over 100,000 genomes, is now a subsidiary of Amgen, and mostly behind IP protection, not Open Access as this database represents.

UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource, containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants. The database is regularly augmented with additional data and is globally accessible to approved researchers undertaking vital research into the most common and life-threatening diseases. It is a major contributor to the advancement of modern medicine and treatment and has enabled several scientific discoveries that improve human health.

A summary of some large scale genome sequencing projects are show in the table below:

BiobankCompleted Whole GenomesRelease Information
UK Biobank200,000300,000 more in early 2023
TransOmics for
Precision Medicien
161,000NIH requires project
specific request
Million Veterans
125,000Non-Veterans Affairs
researchers get first access
100,000 Genomes
120,000Researchers must join Genomics
England collaboration
All of Us90,000NIH expects to release 2022

Other Related Articles on Genome Biobank Projects in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal Include the Following:

Icelandic Population Genomic Study Results by deCODE Genetics come to Fruition: Curation of Current genomic studies

Exome Aggregation Consortium (ExAC), generated the largest catalogue so far of variation in human protein-coding regions: Sequence data of 60,000 people, NOW is a publicly accessible database

Systems Biology Analysis of Transcription Networks, Artificial Intelligence, and High-End Computing Coming to Fruition in Personalized Oncology

Diversity and Health Disparity Issues Need to be Addressed for GWAS and Precision Medicine Studies

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Defective viral RNA sensing gene OAS1 linked to severe COVID-19

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

Source: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abm3921

Defective viral RNA sensing linked to severe COVID-19

JOHN SCHOGGINS SCIENCE•28 Oct 2021•Vol 374, Issue 6567•pp. 535-536•DOI: 10.1126/science.abm39214,824

Why do some people with COVID-19 get sicker than others? Maybe exposure to a particularly high dose of the causative virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), accounts for the difference. Perhaps deficiencies in diet, exercise, or sleep contribute to worse illness. Although many factors govern how sick people become, a key driver of the severity of COVID-19 appears to be genetic, which is common for other human viruses and infectious agents (1). On page 579 of this issue, Wickenhagen et al. (2) show that susceptibility to severe COVID-19 is associated with a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the human gene 2′-5′-oligoadenylate synthetase 1 (OAS1).The authors reasoned that SARS-CoV-2 should be inhibited by interferon-mediated antiviral responses, which are among the first cellular defense mechanisms produced in response to a viral infection. Interferons are a group of cytokines that induce the transcription of a large cadre of genes, many of which encode proteins with the potential to directly inhibit the invading virus. Wickenhagen et al. interrogated many hundreds of these putative antiviral proteins for their ability to suppress SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells and found that OAS1 was particularly potent against SARS-CoV-2.OAS1 is an enzyme that is activated in the presence of double-stranded RNA, which is scattered along an otherwise singlestranded SARS-CoV-2 genome because of an assortment of RNA hairpins and other secondary structures. Once activated, OAS1 catalyzes the polymerization of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) into a second messenger, 2′-5′-oligoadenylate. This then triggers the conversion of ribonuclease L (RNaseL) into its active form so that it can cleave viral RNA, effectively blunting viral replication (3). Wickenhagen et al. found that OAS1 is expressed in respiratory tissues of healthy donors and COVID-19 patients and that it interacts with a region of the SARS-CoV-2 genome that contains double-stranded RNA secondary structures (see the figure).OAS1 exists predominantly as two isoforms in humans—a longer isoform (p46) and a shorter version (p42). Genetic variation dictates which isoform will be expressed. In humans, p46 is expressed in people who have a SNP that causes alternative splicing of the OAS1 messenger RNA (mRNA). This results in the utilization of a terminal exon that is not used to translate p42. Thus, the carboxyl terminus of the p46 OAS1 protein contains a distinct four–amino acid motif that forms a prenylation site. Prenylation is a posttranslational modification that targets proteins to membranes. In cell culture experiments, Wickenhagen et al. showed that only OAS1 p46, but not p42, could inhibit SARS-CoV-2. However, when the prenylation site of p46 was engineered into p42, this chimeric p42 protein was able to inhibit SARS-CoV-2, which strongly implicates a role for OAS1 specifically at membranes.Why are membranes important? SARS-CoV-2, like all coronaviruses, co-opts cellular membranes at the endoplasmic reticulum to form double-membrane vesicles, in which the virus replicates its genome. Thus, membrane-bound OAS1 p46 may be specifically activated by RNA viruses that form membrane-bound vesicles for replication. Indeed, the unrelated cardiovirus A, which also forms vesicular membranous structures, was inhibited by OAS1. Conversely, other respiratory RNA viruses, such as human parainfluenza virus type 3 and human respiratory syncytial virus, which do not use membrane-tethered vesicles for replication, were not inhibited by p46.Wickenhagen et al. examined a cohort of 499 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the UK. Whereas all patients expressed OAS1, 42.5% of them did not express the antiviral p46 isoform. These patients were statistically more likely to have severe COVID-19 (be admitted to the intensive care unit). This suggests that OAS1 is an important antiviral factor in the control of SARS-CoV-2 infection and that its inability to activate RNaseL results in prolonged infections and severe disease, although other factors likely contribute. The authors also examined animals known to harbor different coronaviruses. They found evidence for prenylated OAS1 proteins in mice, cows, and camels. Notably, horseshoe bats, which are considered a possible reservoir for SARS-related coronaviruses (4), lack a prenylation motif in their OAS1 because of genomic changes that eliminated the critical four-amino acid motif. A horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) OAS1 was unable to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection in cell culture. Conversely, the black flying fox (Pteropus alecto)—a pteropid bat that is a reservoir for the Nipah and Hendra viruses, which can also infect humans—possesses a prenylated OAS1 that can inhibit SARS-CoV-2. These findings indicate that horseshoe bats may be genetically and evolutionarily primed to be optimal reservoir hosts for certain coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2.Other studies have now shown that the p46 OAS1 variant, which resides in a genomic locus inherited from Neanderthals (57), correlates with protection from COVID-19 severity in various populations (89). These findings mirror previous studies indicating that outcomes with West Nile virus (10) and hepatitis C virus (11) infection, both of which also use membrane vesicles for replication, are also associated with genetic variation at the human OAS1 locus. Another elegant functional study complements the findings of Wickenhagen et al. by also demonstrating that prenylated OAS1 inhibits multiple viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and is associated with protection from severe COVID-19 in patients (12).There is a growing body of evidence that provides critical understanding of how human genetic variation shapes the outcome of infectious diseases like COVID-19. In addition to OAS1, genetic variation in another viral RNA sensor, Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7), is associated with severe COVID-19 (1315). The effects appear to be exclusive to males, because TLR7 is on the X chromosome, so inherited deleterious mutations in TLR7 therefore result in immune cells that fail to produce normal amounts of interferon, which correlates with more severe COVID-19. Our knowledge of the host cellular factors that control SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly increasing. These findings will undoubtedly open new avenues into SARS-CoV-2 antiviral immunity and may also be beneficial for the development of strategies to treat or prevent severe COVID-19.

References and Notes

1J. L. Casanova, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.112, E7118 (2015).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR2A. Wickenhagen et al., Science374, eabj3624 (2021).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR3H. Kristiansen, H. H. Gad, S. Eskildsen-Larsen, P. Despres, R. Hartmann, J. Interferon Cytokine Res.31, 41 (2011).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR4S. Lytras, W. Xia, J. Hughes, X. Jiang, D. L. Robertson, Science373, 968 (2021).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR5S. Zhou et al., Nat. Med.27, 659 (2021).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR6H. Zeberg, S. Pääbo, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.118, e2026309118 (2021).CROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR7F. L. Mendez, J. C. Watkins, M. F. Hammer, Mol. Biol. Evol.30, 798 (2013).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR8A. R. Banday et al., medRxiv2021).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFGOOGLE SCHOLAR9E. Pairo-Castineira et al., Nature591, 92 (2021).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR10J. K. Lim et al., PLOS Pathog.5, e1000321 (2009).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR11M. K. El Awady et al., J. Gastroenterol. Hepatol.26, 843 (2011).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR12F. W. Soveg et al., eLife10, e71047 (2021).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR13T. Asano et al., Sci. Immunol.6, eabl4348 (2021).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR14C. Fallerini et al., eLife10, e67569 (2021).CROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR15C. I. van der Made et al., JAMA324, 663 (2020).GO TO REFERENCECROSSREFPUBMEDGOOGLE SCHOLAR

For more on COVID-19 Please see our Coronavirus Portal at

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A laboratory for the use of AI for drug development has been launched in collaboration with Pfizer, Teva, AstraZeneca, Mark and Amazon

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

AION Labs unites pharma, technology and funds companies including IBF to invest in startups to integrate developments in cloud computing and artificial intelligence to improve drug development capabilities. An alliance of four leading pharmaceutical companies –  
 , the first innovation lab of its kind in the world and a pioneer in the process of adopting cloud technologies, artificial intelligence and computer science to solve the R&D challenges of the pharma industry, today announces its launch.
AstraZeneca ,  
Mark ,  
Pfizer  and 
Teva  – and two leading companies in the field of high-tech and biotech investments, respectively – AWS ( 
Amazon Web Services Inc ) and the Israeli investment fund IBF ( 
Israel Biotech Fund ) – which joined together to establish groundbreaking ventures Through artificial intelligence and computer science to change the way new therapies are discovered and developed.  “We are excited to launch the new innovation lab in favor of discoveries of drugs and medical devices using groundbreaking computational tools,” said Matti Gil, CEO of AION Labs. We are prepared and ready to make a difference in the process of therapeutic discoveries and their development. 
With a strong pool of talent from Israel and the world, cloud technology and artificial intelligence at the heart of our activities and a significant commitment by the State of Israel, we are ready to contribute to the health and well-being of the human race and promote industry in Israel. 
I thank the partners for the trust, and it is an honor for me to lead such a significant initiative. ” 
In addition, AION Labs has announced a strategic partnership with X  
BioMed  , an independent biomedical research institute operating in Heidelberg, Germany. 
BioMed X has a proven track record in advancing research innovations in the field of biomedicine at the interface between academic research and the pharmaceutical industry. 
BioMed X’s innovation model, based on global mass sourcing and incubators to cultivate the most brilliant talent and ideas, will serve as the R & D engine to drive AION Labs’ enterprise model.


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Thriving Vaccines and Research: Weizmann Institute Coronavirus Research Development

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, B.Sc., M.Sc.

In early February, Prof. Eran Segal updated in one of his tweets and mentioned that “We say with caution, the magic has started.”

The article reported that this statement by Prof. Segal was due to decreasing cases of COVID-19, severe infection cases and hospitalization of patients by rapid vaccination process throughout Israel. Prof. Segal emphasizes in another tweet to remain cautious over the country and informed that there is a long way to cover and searching for scientific solutions.

A daylong webinar entitled “COVID-19: The epidemic that rattles the world” was a great initiative by Weizmann Institute to share their scientific knowledge about the infection among the Israeli institutions and scientists. Prof. Gideon Schreiber and Dr. Ron Diskin organized the event with the support of the Weizmann Coronavirus Response Fund and Israel Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The speakers were invited from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv University, the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), and Kaplan Medical Center who addressed the molecular structure and infection biology of the virus, treatments and medications for COVID-19, and the positive and negative effect of the pandemic.

The article reported that with the emergence of pandemic, the scientists at Weizmann started more than 60 projects to explore the virus from different range of perspectives. With the help of funds raised by communities worldwide for the Weizmann Coronavirus Response Fund supported scientists and investigators to elucidate the chemistry, physics and biology behind SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Prof. Avi Levy, the coordinator of the Weizmann Institute’s coronavirus research efforts, mentioned “The vaccines are here, and they will drastically reduce infection rates. But the coronavirus can mutate, and there are many similar infectious diseases out there to be dealt with. All of this research is critical to understanding all sorts of viruses and to preempting any future pandemics.”

The following are few important projects with recent updates reported in the article.

Mapping a hijacker’s methods

Dr. Noam Stern-Ginossar studied the virus invading strategies into the healthy cells and hijack the cell’s systems to divide and reproduce. The article reported that viruses take over the genetic translation system and mainly the ribosomes to produce viral proteins. Dr. Noam used a novel approach known as ‘ribosome profiling’ as her research objective and create a map to locate the translational events taking place inside the viral genome, which further maps the full repertoire of viral proteins produced inside the host.

She and her team members grouped together with the Weizmann’s de Botton Institute and researchers at IIBR for Protein Profiling and understanding the hijacking instructions of coronavirus and developing tools for treatment and therapies. Scientists generated a high-resolution map of the coding regions in the SARS-CoV-2 genome using ribosome-profiling techniques, which allowed researchers to quantify the expression of vital zones along the virus genome that regulates the translation of viral proteins. The study published in Nature in January, explains the hijacking process and reported that virus produces more instruction in the form of viral mRNA than the host and thus dominates the translation process of the host cell. Researchers also clarified that it is the misconception that virus forced the host cell to translate its viral mRNA more efficiently than the host’s own translation, rather high level of viral translation instructions causes hijacking. This study provides valuable insights for the development of effective vaccines and drugs against the COVID-19 infection.

Like chutzpah, some things don’t translate

Prof. Igor Ulitsky and his team worked on untranslated region of viral genome. The article reported that “Not all the parts of viral transcript is translated into protein- rather play some important role in protein production and infection which is unknown.” This region may affect the molecular environment of the translated zones. The Ulitsky group researched to characterize that how the genetic sequence of regions that do not translate into proteins directly or indirectly affect the stability and efficiency of the translating sequences.

Initially, scientists created the library of about 6,000 regions of untranslated sequences to further study their functions. In collaboration with Dr. Noam Stern-Ginossar’s lab, the researchers of Ulitsky’s team worked on Nsp1 protein and focused on the mechanism that how such regions affect the Nsp1 protein production which in turn enhances the virulence. The researchers generated a new alternative and more authentic protocol after solving some technical difficulties which included infecting cells with variants from initial library. Within few months, the researchers are expecting to obtain a more detailed map of how the stability of Nsp1 protein production is getting affected by specific sequences of the untranslated regions.

The landscape of elimination

The article reported that the body’s immune system consists of two main factors- HLA (Human Leukocyte antigen) molecules and T cells for identifying and fighting infections. HLA molecules are protein molecules present on the cell surface and bring fragments of peptide to the surface from inside the infected cell. These peptide fragments are recognized and destroyed by the T cells of the immune system. Samuels’ group tried to find out the answer to the question that how does the body’s surveillance system recognizes the appropriate peptide derived from virus and destroy it. They isolated and analyzed the ‘HLA peptidome’- the complete set of peptides bound to the HLA proteins from inside the SARS-CoV-2 infected cells.

After the analysis of infected cells, they found 26 class-I and 36 class-II HLA peptides, which are present in 99% of the population around the world. Two peptides from HLA class-I were commonly present on the cell surface and two other peptides were derived from coronavirus rare proteins- which mean that these specific coronavirus peptides were marked for easy detection. Among the identified peptides, two peptides were novel discoveries and seven others were shown to induce an immune response earlier. These results from the study will help to develop new vaccines against new coronavirus mutation variants.

Gearing up ‘chain terminators’ to battle the coronavirus

Prof. Rotem Sorek and his lab discovered a family of enzymes within bacteria that produce novel antiviral molecules. These small molecules manufactured by bacteria act as ‘chain terminators’ to fight against the virus invading the bacteria. The study published in Nature in January which reported that these molecules cause a chemical reaction that halts the virus’s replication ability. These new molecules are modified derivates of nucleotide which integrates at the molecular level in the virus and obstruct the works.

Prof. Sorek and his group hypothesize that these new particles could serve as a potential antiviral drug based on the mechanism of chain termination utilized in antiviral drugs used recently in the clinical treatments. Yeda Research and Development has certified these small novel molecules to a company for testing its antiviral mechanism against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Such novel discoveries provide evidences that bacterial immune system is a potential repository of many natural antiviral particles.

Resolving borderline diagnoses

Currently, Real-time Polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is the only choice and extensively used for diagnosis of COVID-19 patients around the globe. Beside its benefits, there are problems associated with RT-PCR, false negative and false positive results and its limitation in detecting new mutations in the virus and emerging variants in the population worldwide. Prof. Eran Elinavs’ lab and Prof. Ido Amits’ lab are working collaboratively to develop a massively parallel, next-generation sequencing technique that tests more effectively and precisely as compared to RT-PCR. This technique can characterize the emerging mutations in SARS-CoV-2, co-occurring viral, bacterial and fungal infections and response patterns in human.

The scientists identified viral variants and distinctive host signatures that help to differentiate infected individuals from non-infected individuals and patients with mild symptoms and severe symptoms.

In Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Profs. Elinav and Amit are performing trails of the pipeline to test the accuracy in borderline cases, where RT-PCR shows ambiguous or incorrect results. For proper diagnosis and patient stratification, researchers calibrated their severity-prediction matrix. Collectively, scientists are putting efforts to develop a reliable system that resolves borderline cases of RT-PCR and identify new virus variants with known and new mutations, and uses data from human host to classify patients who are needed of close observation and extensive treatment from those who have mild complications and can be managed conservatively.

Moon shot consortium refining drug options

The ‘Moon shot’ consortium was launched almost a year ago with an initiative to develop a novel antiviral drug against SARS-CoV-2 and was led by Dr. Nir London of the Department of Chemical and Structural Biology at Weizmann, Prof. Frank von Delft of Oxford University and the UK’s Diamond Light Source synchroton facility.

To advance the series of novel molecules from conception to evidence of antiviral activity, the scientists have gathered support, guidance, expertise and resources from researchers around the world within a year. The article reported that researchers have built an alternative template for drug-discovery, full transparency process, which avoids the hindrance of intellectual property and red tape.

The new molecules discovered by scientists inhibit a protease, a SARS-CoV-2 protein playing important role in virus replication. The team collaborated with the Israel Institute of Biological Research and other several labs across the globe to demonstrate the efficacy of molecules not only in-vitro as well as in analysis against live virus.

Further research is performed including assaying of safety and efficacy of these potential drugs in living models. The first trial on mice has been started in March. Beside this, additional drugs are optimized and nominated for preclinical testing as candidate drug.

Source: https://www.weizmann.ac.il/WeizmannCompass/sections/features/the-vaccines-are-here-and-research-abounds

Other related articles were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

Identification of Novel genes in human that fight COVID-19 infection

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, B.Sc., M.Sc. (ept. 5/2021)


Fighting Chaos with Care, community trust, engagement must be cornerstones of pandemic response

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T cells recognize recent SARS-CoV-2 variants

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Need for Global Response to SARS-CoV-2 Viral Variants

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Identification of Novel genes in human that fight COVID-19 infection

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, B.Sc., M.Sc. (ept. 5/2021)

Scientists have recognized human genes that fight against the SARS-CoV-2 viral infection. The information about genes and their function can help to control infection and aids the understanding of crucial factors that causes severe infection. These novel genes are related to interferons, the frontline fighter in our body’s defense system and provide options for therapeutic strategies.

The research was published in the journal Molecular Cell.

Sumit K. Chanda, Ph.D., professor and director of the Immunity and Pathogenesis Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys reported in the article that they focused on better understanding of the cellular response and downstream mechanism in cells to SARS-CoV-2, including the factors which causes strong or weak response to viral infection. He is the lead author of the study and explained that in this study they have gained new insights into how the human cells are exploited by invading virus and are still working towards finding any weak point of virus to develop new antivirals against SARS-CoV-2.

With the surge of pandemic, researchers and scientists found that in severe cases of COVID-19, the response of interferons to SARS-CoV-2 viral infection is low. This information led Chanda and other collaborators to search for interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), are genes in human which are triggered by interferons and play important role in confining COVID-19 infection by controlling their viral replication in host.

The investigators have developed laboratory experiments to identify ISGs based on the previous knowledge gathered by the outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 from 2002-2004 which was similar to COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The article reports that Chanda mentioned “we found that 65 ISGs controlled SAR-CoV-2 infection, including some that inhibited the virus’ ability to enter cells, some that suppressed manufacture of the RNA that is the virus’s lifeblood, and a cluster of genes that inhibited assembly of the virus.” They also found an interesting fact about ISGs that some of these genes revealed control over unrelated viruses, such as HIV, West Nile and seasonal flu.

Laura Martin-Sancho, Ph.D., a senior postdoctoral associate in the Chanda lab and first author of the study reported in the article that they identified 8 different ISGs that blocked the replication of both SARS-CoV-1 and CoV-2 in the subcellular compartments responsible for packaging of proteins, which provide option to exploit these vulnerable sites to restrict infection. They are further investigating whether the genetic variability within the ISGs is associated with COVID-19 severity.

The next step for researchers will be investigating and observing the biology of variants of SARS-CoV-2 that are evolving and affecting vaccine efficacy. Martin-Sancho mentioned that their lab has already started gathering all the possible variants for further investigation.

“It’s vitally important that we don’t take our foot off the pedal of basic research efforts now that vaccines are helping control the pandemic,” reported in the article by Chanda.

“We’ve come so far so fast because of investment in fundamental research at Sanford Burnham Prebys and elsewhere, and our continued efforts will be especially important when, not if, another viral outbreak occurs,” concluded Chanda.

Source: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-04-covid-scientists-human-genes-infection.html

Reference: Laura Martin-Sancho et al. Functional Landscape of SARS-CoV-2 Cellular Restriction, Molecular Cell (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.04.008

Other related articles were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

Fighting Chaos with Care, community trust, engagement must be cornerstones of pandemic response

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur


Mechanism of Thrombosis with AstraZeneca and J & J Vaccines: Expert Opinion by Kate Chander Chiang & Ajay Gupta, MD

Reporter & Curator: Dr. Ajay Gupta, MD


T cells recognize recent SARS-CoV-2 variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN


Need for Global Response to SARS-CoV-2 Viral Variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN


Mechanistic link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and increased risk of stroke using 3D printed models and human endothelial cells

Reporter: Adina Hazan, PhD


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Two brothers with MEPAN Syndrome: A Rare Genetic Disorder

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur

In the early 40s, a married couple named Danny and Nikki, had normal pregnancy and delivered their first child in October 2011.  The couple was elated after the birth of Carson because they were uncertain about even conceiving a baby. Soon after birth, the parents started facing difficulty in feeding the newborn and had some wakeful nights, which they used to called “witching hours”. For initial six months, they were clueless that something was not correct with their infant. Shortly, they found issues in moving ability, sitting, and crawling with Carson. Their next half year went in visiting several behavioral specialists and pediatricians with no conclusion other than a suggestion that there is nothing to panic as children grow at different rates.

Later in early 2013, Caron was detected with cerebral palsy in a local regional center. The diagnosis was based on his disability to talk and delay in motor development. At the same time, Carson had his first MRI which showed no negative results. The parents convinced themselves that their child condition would be solved by therapies and thus started physical and occupational therapies. After two years, the couple gave birth to another boy child named Chase in 2013. Initially, there was nothing wrong with Chase as well. But after nine months, Chase was found to possess the same symptoms of delaying in motor development as his elder brother. It was expected that Chase may also be suffering from cerebral palsy. For around one year both boys went through enormous diagnostic tests starting from karyotyping, metabolic screen tests to diagnostic tests for Fragile X syndrome, lysosomal storage disorders, Friedreich ataxia and spinocerebellar ataxia. Gene panel tests for mitochondrial DNA and Oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) deficiencies were also performed. No conclusion was drawn because each diagnostic test showed the negative results.

Over the years, the condition of boys was deteriorating as their movements became stiffer and ataxic, they were not able to crawl anymore. By the end of 2015, the boys had an MRI which showed some symmetric anomalies in their basal ganglia indicating a metabolic condition. The symptoms of Carson and Chase was not even explained by whole exome sequencing due to the absence of any positive result. The grievous journey of visits to neurologist, diagnostic tests and inconclusive results led the parents to rethink about anything happened erroneous due to them such as due to their lifestyle, insufficient intake of vitamins during pregnancy or exposure to toxic agents which left their sons in that situation.

During the diagnostic odyssey, Danny spent many restless and sleepless nights in searching PubMed for any recent cases with symptoms similar to his sons and eventually came across the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN), which gave a light of hope to the demoralized family. As soon as Danny discovered about the NIH’s Diseases Network, he gathered all the medical documents of both his sons and submitted the application. The submitted application in late 2015 got accepted a year later in December 2016 and they got their first appointment in early 2017 at the UDN site at Stanford. At Stanford, the boys had gone through whole-genome sequencing and some series of examinations which came back with inconclusive results. Finally, in February 2018, the family received some conclusive results which explained that the two boys suffer from MEPAN syndrome with pathogenic mutations in MECR gene.

  • MEPAN means Mitochondrial Enoyl CoA reductase Protein-Associated Neurodegeneration
  • MEPAN syndrome is a rare genetic neurological disorder
  • MEPAN syndrome is associated with symptoms of ataxia, optic atrophy and dystonia
  • The wild-type MECR gene encodes a mitochondrial protein which is involved in metabolic processes
  • The prevalence rate of MEPAN syndrome is 1 in 1 million
  • Currently, there are 17 patients of MEPAN syndrome worldwide

The symptoms of Carson and Chase of an early onset of motor development with no appropriate biomarkers and T-2 hyperintensity in the basal ganglia were matching with the seven known MEPAN patient at that time. The agonizing journey of five years concluded with diagnosis of rare genetic disorder.

Despite the advances in genetic testing and their low-cost, there are many families which still suffer and left undiagnostic for long years. To shorten the diagnostic journey of undiagnosed patients, the whole-exome and whole-genome sequencing can be used as a primary tool. There is need of more research to find appropriate treatments of genetic disorders and therapies to reduce the suffering of the patients and families. It is necessary to fill the gap between the researchers and clinicians to stimulate the development in diagnosis, treatment and drug development for rare genetic disorders.

The family started a foundation named “MEPAN Foundation” (https://www.mepan. org) to reach out to the world to educate people about the mutation in MECR gene. By creating awareness among the communities, clinicians, and researchers worldwide, the patients having rare genetic disorder can come closer and share their information to improve their condition and quality of life.

Reference: Danny Miller, The diagnostic odyssey: our family’s story, The American Journal of Human Genetics, Volume 108, Issue 2, 2021, Pages 217-218, ISSN 0002-9297, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2021.01.003 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002929721000033)




https://www.mepan. org

Other related articles were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

Effect of mitochondrial stress on epigenetic modifiers

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New Insights into mtDNA, mitochondrial proteins, aging, and metabolic control

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Prime Editing as a New CRISPR Tool to Enhance Precision and Versatility


Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD


CRISPR has become a powerful molecular for the editing of genomes tool in research, drug discovery, and the clinic

(see posts and ebook on this site below)


however, as discussed on this site

(see posts below)

there have been many instances of off-target effects where genes, other than the selected target, are edited out.  This ‘off-target’ issue has hampered much of the utility of CRISPR in gene-therapy and CART therapy

see posts


However, an article in Science by Jon Cohen explains a Nature paper’s finding of a new tool in the CRISPR arsenal called prime editing, meant to increase CRISPR specificity and precision editing capabilities.


By Jon Cohen | Oct 25th, 2019

Prime editing promises to be a cut above CRISPR Jon Cohen CRISPR, an extraordinarily powerful genome-editing tool invented in 2012, can still be clumsy. … Prime editing steers around shortcomings of both techniques by heavily modifying the Cas9 protein and the guide RNA. … ” Prime editing “well may become the way that disease-causing mutations are repaired,” he says.

Science Vol. 366, No. 6464; DOI: 10.1126/science.366.6464.406

The effort, led by Drs. David Liu and Andrew Anzalone at the Broad Institute (Cambridge, MA), relies on the modification of the Cas9 protein and guide RNA, so that there is only a nick in a single strand of the double helix.  The canonical Cas9 cuts both strands of DNA, and so relies on an efficient gap repair activity of the cell.  The second part, a new type of guide RNA called a pegRNA, contains an RNA template for a new DNA sequence to be added at the target location.  This pegRNA-directed synthesis of the new template requires the attachment of a reverse transcriptase enzymes to the Cas9.  So far Liu and his colleagues have tested the technology on over 175 human and rodent cell lines with great success.  In addition, they had also corrected mutations which cause Tay Sachs disease, which previous CRISPR systems could not do.  Liu claims that this technology could correct over 89% of pathogenic variants in human diseases.

A company Prime Medicine has been formed out of this effort.

Source: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6464/406.abstract


Read an article on Dr. Liu, prime editing, and the companies that Dr. Liu has initiated including Editas Medicine, Beam Therapeutics, and Prime Medicine at https://www.statnews.com/2019/11/06/questions-david-liu-crispr-prime-editing-answers/

(interview by StatNews  SHARON BEGLEY @sxbegle)

As was announced, prime editing for human therapeutics will be jointly developed by both Prime Medicine and Beam Therapeutics, each focusing on different types of edits and distinct disease targets, which will help avoid redundancy and allow us to cover more disease territory overall. The companies will also share knowledge in prime editing as well as in accompanying technologies, such as delivery and manufacturing.

Reader of StatNews.: Can you please compare the pros and cons of prime editing versus base editing?

The first difference between base editing and prime editing is that base editing has been widely used for the past 3 1/2 years in organisms ranging from bacteria to plants to mice to primates. Addgene tells me that the DNA blueprints for base editors from our laboratory have been distributed more than 7,500 times to more than 1,000 researchers around the world, and more than 100 research papers from many different laboratories have been published using base editors to achieve desired gene edits for a wide variety of applications. While we are very excited about prime editing, it’s brand-new and there has only been one paper published thus far. So there’s much to do before we can know if prime editing will prove to be as general and robust as base editing has proven to be.

We directly compared prime editors and base editors in our study, and found that current base editors can offer higher editing efficiency and fewer indel byproducts than prime editors, while prime editors offer more targeting flexibility and greater editing precision. So when the desired edit is a transition point mutation (C to T, T to C, A to G, or G to A), and the target base is well-positioned for base editing (that is, a PAM sequence exists approximately 15 bases from the target site), then base editing can result in higher editing efficiencies and fewer byproducts. When the target base is not well-positioned for base editing, or when other “bystander” C or A bases are nearby that must not be edited, then prime editing offers major advantages since it does not require a precisely positioned PAM sequence and is a true “search-and-replace” editing capability, with no possibility of unwanted bystander editing at neighboring bases.

Of course, for classes of mutations other than the four types of point mutations that base editors can make, such as insertions, deletions, and the eight other kinds of point mutations, to our knowledge prime editing is currently the only approach that can make these mutations in human cells without requiring double-stranded DNA cuts or separate DNA templates.

Nucleases (such as the zinc-finger nucleases, TALE nucleases, and the original CRISPR-Cas9), base editors, and prime editors each have complementary strengths and weaknesses, just as scissors, pencils, and word processors each have unique and useful roles. All three classes of editing agents already have or will have roles in basic research and in applications such as human therapeutics and agriculture.

Nature Paper on Prime Editing CRISPR

Search-and-replace genome editing without double-strand breaks or donor DNA (6)


Andrew V. Anzalone,  Peyton B. Randolph, Jessie R. Davis, Alexander A. Sousa,

Luke W. Koblan, Jonathan M. Levy, Peter J. Chen, Christopher Wilson,

Gregory A. Newby, Aditya Raguram & David R. Liu


Nature volume 576, pages149–157(2019)



Most genetic variants that contribute to disease1 are challenging to correct efficiently and without excess byproducts2,3,4,5. Here we describe prime editing, a versatile and precise genome editing method that directly writes new genetic information into a specified DNA site using a catalytically impaired Cas9 endonuclease fused to an engineered reverse transcriptase, programmed with a prime editing guide RNA (pegRNA) that both specifies the target site and encodes the desired edit. We performed more than 175 edits in human cells, including targeted insertions, deletions, and all 12 types of point mutation, without requiring double-strand breaks or donor DNA templates. We used prime editing in human cells to correct, efficiently and with few byproducts, the primary genetic causes of sickle cell disease (requiring a transversion in HBB) and Tay–Sachs disease (requiring a deletion in HEXA); to install a protective transversion in PRNP; and to insert various tags and epitopes precisely into target loci. Four human cell lines and primary post-mitotic mouse cortical neurons support prime editing with varying efficiencies. Prime editing shows higher or similar efficiency and fewer byproducts than homology-directed repair, has complementary strengths and weaknesses compared to base editing, and induces much lower off-target editing than Cas9 nuclease at known Cas9 off-target sites. Prime editing substantially expands the scope and capabilities of genome editing, and in principle could correct up to 89% of known genetic variants associated with human diseases.



From Anzolone et al. Nature 2019 Figure 1.

Prime editing strategy

Cas9 targets DNA using a guide RNA containing a spacer sequence that hybridizes to the target DNA site. We envisioned the generation of guide RNAs that both specify the DNA target and contain new genetic information that replaces target DNA nucleotides. To transfer information from these engineered guide RNAs to target DNA, we proposed that genomic DNA, nicked at the target site to expose a 3′-hydroxyl group, could be used to prime the reverse transcription of an edit-encoding extension on the engineered guide RNA (the pegRNA) directly into the target site (Fig. 1b, cSupplementary Discussion).

These initial steps result in a branched intermediate with two redundant single-stranded DNA flaps: a 5′ flap that contains the unedited DNA sequence and a 3′ flap that contains the edited sequence copied from the pegRNA (Fig. 1c). Although hybridization of the perfectly complementary 5′ flap to the unedited strand is likely to be thermodynamically favoured, 5′ flaps are the preferred substrate for structure-specific endonucleases such as FEN122, which excises 5′ flaps generated during lagging-strand DNA synthesis and long-patch base excision repair. The redundant unedited DNA may also be removed by 5′ exonucleases such as EXO123.

  • The authors reasoned that preferential 5′ flap excision and 3′ flap ligation could drive the incorporation of the edited DNA strand, creating heteroduplex DNA containing one edited strand and one unedited strand (Fig. 1c).
  • DNA repair to resolve the heteroduplex by copying the information in the edited strand to the complementary strand would permanently install the edit (Fig. 1c).
  • They had hypothesized that nicking the non-edited DNA strand might bias DNA repair to preferentially replace the non-edited strand.


  • The authors evaluated the eukaryotic cell DNA repair outcomes of 3′ flaps produced by pegRNA-programmed reverse transcription in vitro, and performed in vitro prime editing on reporter plasmids, then transformed the reaction products into yeast cells (Extended Data Fig. 2).
  • Reporter plasmids encoding EGFP and mCherry separated by a linker containing an in-frame stop codon, +1 frameshift, or −1 frameshift were constructed and when plasmids were edited in vitro with Cas9 nickase, RT, and 3′-extended pegRNAs encoding a transversion that corrects the premature stop codon, 37% of yeast transformants expressed both GFP and mCherry (Fig. 1f, Extended Data Fig. 2).
  • They fused a variant of M—MLV-RT (reverse transcriptase) to Cas9 with an extended linker and this M-MLV RT fused to the C terminus of Cas9(H840A) nickase was designated as PE1. This strategy allowed the authors to generate a cell line containing all the required components of the primer editing system. They constructed 19 variants of PE1 containing a variety of RT mutations to evaluate their editing efficiency in human cells
  • Generated a pentamutant RT incorporated into PE1 (Cas9(H840A)–M-MLV RT(D200N/L603W/T330P/T306K/W313F)) is hereafter referred to as prime editor 2 (PE2).  These were more thermostable versions of RT with higher efficiency.
  • Optimized the guide (pegRNA) using a series of permutations and  recommend starting with about 10–16 nt and testing shorter and longer RT templates during pegRNA optimization.
  • In the previous attempts (PE1 and PE2 systems), mismatch repair resolves the heteroduplex to give either edited or non-edited products. So they next developed an optimal editing system (PE3) to produce optimal nickase activity and found nicks positioned 3′ of the edit about 40–90 bp from the pegRNA-induced nick generally increased editing efficiency (averaging 41%) without excess indel formation (6.8% average indels for the sgRNA with the highest editing efficiency) (Fig. 3b).
  • The cell line used to finalize and validate the system was predominantly HEK293T immortalized cell line
  • Together, their findings establish that PE3 systems improve editing efficiencies about threefold compared with PE2, albeit with a higher range of indels than PE2. When it is possible to nick the non-edited strand with an sgRNA that requires editing before nicking, the PE3b system offers PE3-like editing levels while greatly reducing indel formation.
  • Off Target Effects: Strikingly, PE3 or PE2 with the same 16 pegRNAs containing these four target spacers resulted in detectable off-target editing at only 3 out of 16 off-target sites, with only 1 of 16 showing an off-target editing efficiency of 1% or more (Extended Data Fig. 6h). Average off-target prime editing for pegRNAs targeting HEK3HEK4EMX1, and FANCFat the top four known Cas9 off-target sites for each protospacer was <0.1%, <2.2 ± 5.2%, <0.1%, and <0.13 ± 0.11%, respectively (Extended Data Fig. 6h).
  • The PE3 system was very efficient at editing the most common mutation that causes Tay-Sachs disease, a 4-bp insertion in HEXA(HEXA1278+TATC).


  1. Landrum, M. J. et al. ClinVar: public archive of interpretations of clinically relevant variants. Nucleic Acids Res44, D862–D868 (2016).
  2. Jinek, M. et al. A programmable dual-RNA-guided DNA endonuclease in adaptive bacterial immunity. Science337, 816–821 (2012).
  3. Cong, L. et al. Multiplex genome engineering using CRISPR/Cas systems. Science339, 819–823 (2013).


  1. Mali, P. et al. RNA-guided human genome engineering via Cas9. Science339, 823–826 (2013).
  2. Kosicki, M., Tomberg, K. & Bradley, A. Repair of double-strand breaks induced by CRISPR–Cas9 leads to large deletions and complex rearrangements.  Biotechnol. 36, 765–771 (2018).
  3. Anzalone, A.V., Randolph, P.B., Davis, J.R. et al.Search-and-replace genome editing without double-strand breaks or donor DNA. Nature576, 149–157 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1711-4

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