Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Nature biotechnology


Oligonucleotides are almost exclusively synthesized using the nucleoside phosphoramidite method, even though it is limited to the direct synthesis of ∼200 mers and produces hazardous waste. Here, we describe an oligonucleotide synthesis strategy that uses the template-independent polymerase terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT). Each TdT molecule is conjugated to a single deoxyribonucleoside triphosphate (dNTP) molecule that it can incorporate into a primer. After incorporation of the tethered dNTP, the 3' end of the primer remains covalently bound to TdT and is inaccessible to other TdT-dNTP molecules. Cleaving the linkage between TdT and the incorporated nucleotide releases the primer and allows subsequent extension. We demonstrate that TdT-dNTP conjugates can quantitatively extend a primer by a single nucleotide in 10-20 s, and that the scheme can be iterated to write a defined sequence. This approach may form the basis of an enzymatic oligonucleotide synthesizer.


CRISPR-Cas9 is poised to become the gene editing tool of choice in clinical contexts. Thus far, exploration of Cas9-induced genetic alterations has been limited to the immediate vicinity of the target site and distal off-target sequences, leading to the conclusion that CRISPR-Cas9 was reasonably specific. Here we report significant on-target mutagenesis, such as large deletions and more complex genomic rearrangements at the targeted sites in mouse embryonic stem cells, mouse hematopoietic progenitors and a human differentiated cell line. Using long-read sequencing and long-range PCR genotyping, we show that DNA breaks introduced by single-guide RNA/Cas9 frequently resolved into deletions extending over many kilobases. Furthermore, lesions distal to the cut site and crossover events were identified. The observed genomic damage in mitotically active cells caused by CRISPR-Cas9 editing may have pathogenic consequences.


A challenge for tissue engineering is producing three-dimensional (3D), vascularized cellular constructs of clinically relevant size, shape and structural integrity. We present an integrated tissue-organ printer (ITOP) that can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue constructs of any shape. Mechanical stability is achieved by printing cell-laden hydrogels together with biodegradable polymers in integrated patterns and anchored on sacrificial hydrogels. The correct shape of the tissue construct is achieved by representing clinical imaging data as a computer model of the anatomical defect and translating the model into a program that controls the motions of the printer nozzles, which dispense cells to discrete locations. The incorporation of microchannels into the tissue constructs facilitates diffusion of nutrients to printed cells, thereby overcoming the diffusion limit of 100-200 μm for cell survival in engineered tissues. We demonstrate capabilities of the ITOP by fabricating mandible and calvarial bone, cartilage and skeletal muscle. Future development of the ITOP is being directed to the production of tissues for human applications and to the building of more complex tissues and solid organs.

Concepts: Bone, Extracellular matrix, Organ, Engineering, Tissues, Computer graphics, Human anatomy, Printing


Genetic studies of human disease have traditionally focused on the detection of disease-causing mutations in afflicted individuals. Here we describe a complementary approach that seeks to identify healthy individuals resilient to highly penetrant forms of genetic childhood disorders. A comprehensive screen of 874 genes in 589,306 genomes led to the identification of 13 adults harboring mutations for 8 severe Mendelian conditions, with no reported clinical manifestation of the indicated disease. Our findings demonstrate the promise of broadening genetic studies to systematically search for well individuals who are buffering the effects of rare, highly penetrant, deleterious mutations. They also indicate that incomplete penetrance for Mendelian diseases is likely more common than previously believed. The identification of resilient individuals may provide a first step toward uncovering protective genetic variants that could help elucidate the mechanisms of Mendelian diseases and new therapeutic strategies.

Concepts: DNA, Medicine, Gene, Genetics, Epidemiology, Cancer, Disease, Genetic disorder


Serotonin neurons located in the raphe nucleus of the hindbrain have crucial roles in regulating brain functions and have been implicated in various psychiatric disorders. Yet functional human serotonin neurons are not available for in vitro studies. Through manipulation of the WNT pathway, we demonstrate efficient differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) to cells resembling central serotonin neurons, primarily those located in the rhombomeric segments 2-3 of the rostral raphe, which participate in high-order brain functions. The serotonin neurons express a series of molecules essential for serotonergic development, including tryptophan hydroxylase 2, exhibit typical electrophysiological properties and release serotonin in an activity-dependent manner. When treated with the FDA-approved drugs tramadol and escitalopram oxalate, they release or uptake serotonin in a dose- and time-dependent manner, suggesting the utility of these cells for the evaluation of drug candidates.

Concepts: Neuron, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Cell biology, Cerebellum, Serotonin, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Raphe nuclei


We report the sequencing and assembly of a reference genome for the human GM12878 Utah/Ceph cell line using the MinION (Oxford Nanopore Technologies) nanopore sequencer. 91.2 Gb of sequence data, representing ∼30× theoretical coverage, were produced. Reference-based alignment enabled detection of large structural variants and epigenetic modifications. De novo assembly of nanopore reads alone yielded a contiguous assembly (NG50 ∼3 Mb). We developed a protocol to generate ultra-long reads (N50 > 100 kb, read lengths up to 882 kb). Incorporating an additional 5× coverage of these ultra-long reads more than doubled the assembly contiguity (NG50 ∼6.4 Mb). The final assembled genome was 2,867 million bases in size, covering 85.8% of the reference. Assembly accuracy, after incorporating complementary short-read sequencing data, exceeded 99.8%. Ultra-long reads enabled assembly and phasing of the 4-Mb major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus in its entirety, measurement of telomere repeat length, and closure of gaps in the reference human genome assembly GRCh38.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell, Human genome, Base pair, Major histocompatibility complex, The Assembly


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) remains a major cause of blindness, with dysfunction and loss of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) central to disease progression. We engineered an RPE patch comprising a fully differentiated, human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived RPE monolayer on a coated, synthetic basement membrane. We delivered the patch, using a purpose-designed microsurgical tool, into the subretinal space of one eye in each of two patients with severe exudative AMD. Primary endpoints were incidence and severity of adverse events and proportion of subjects with improved best-corrected visual acuity of 15 letters or more. We report successful delivery and survival of the RPE patch by biomicroscopy and optical coherence tomography, and a visual acuity gain of 29 and 21 letters in the two patients, respectively, over 12 months. Only local immunosuppression was used long-term. We also present the preclinical surgical, cell safety and tumorigenicity studies leading to trial approval. This work supports the feasibility and safety of hESC-RPE patch transplantation as a regenerative strategy for AMD.

Concepts: Stem cell, Embryonic stem cell, Retina, Eye, Macular degeneration, Bruch's membrane, Drusen, Retinal pigment epithelium


High-fidelity intracranial electrode arrays for recording and stimulating brain activity have facilitated major advances in the treatment of neurological conditions over the past decade. Traditional arrays require direct implantation into the brain via open craniotomy, which can lead to inflammatory tissue responses, necessitating development of minimally invasive approaches that avoid brain trauma. Here we demonstrate the feasibility of chronically recording brain activity from within a vein using a passive stent-electrode recording array (stentrode). We achieved implantation into a superficial cortical vein overlying the motor cortex via catheter angiography and demonstrate neural recordings in freely moving sheep for up to 190 d. Spectral content and bandwidth of vascular electrocorticography were comparable to those of recordings from epidural surface arrays. Venous internal lumen patency was maintained for the duration of implantation. Stentrodes may have wide ranging applications as a neural interface for treatment of a range of neurological conditions.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Brain, Blood, Traumatic brain injury, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Neurology, Electroencephalography


Nanoscale robots have potential as intelligent drug delivery systems that respond to molecular triggers. Using DNA origami we constructed an autonomous DNA robot programmed to transport payloads and present them specifically in tumors. Our nanorobot is functionalized on the outside with a DNA aptamer that binds nucleolin, a protein specifically expressed on tumor-associated endothelial cells, and the blood coagulation protease thrombin within its inner cavity. The nucleolin-targeting aptamer serves both as a targeting domain and as a molecular trigger for the mechanical opening of the DNA nanorobot. The thrombin inside is thus exposed and activates coagulation at the tumor site. Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth. The nanorobot proved safe and immunologically inert in mice and Bama miniature pigs. Our data show that DNA nanorobots represent a promising strategy for precise drug delivery in cancer therapy.

Concepts: Inflammation, DNA, Blood, Heart, Blood vessel, Coagulation, Nanotechnology, Endothelium


Blood pressure regulation is known to be maintained by a neuro-endocrine circuit, but whether immune cells contribute to blood pressure homeostasis has not been determined. We previously showed that CD4(+) T lymphocytes that express choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), which catalyzes the synthesis of the vasorelaxant acetylcholine, relay neural signals. Here we show that these CD4(+)CD44(hi)CD62L(lo) T helper cells by gene expression are a distinct T-cell population defined by ChAT (CD4 TChAT). Mice lacking ChAT expression in CD4(+) cells have elevated arterial blood pressure, compared to littermate controls. Jurkat T cells overexpressing ChAT (JTChAT) decreased blood pressure when infused into mice. Co-incubation of JTChAT and endothelial cells increased endothelial cell levels of phosphorylated endothelial nitric oxide synthase, and of nitrates and nitrites in conditioned media, indicating increased release of the potent vasorelaxant nitric oxide. The isolation and characterization of CD4 TChAT cells will enable analysis of the role of these cells in hypotension and hypertension, and may suggest novel therapeutic strategies by targeting cell-mediated vasorelaxation.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Gene, Atherosclerosis, Blood pressure, T helper cell, Nitric oxide, Nitric oxide synthase