In this week’s Sunday Science: more CRISPR refinements to treat human disease, confused narwhals, disease-carrying bats, and a trio of studies on bias, fake news and psychological targeting.
CRISPR gene editing advances seem to be getting published almost every day at the moment. This latest study manages to refine the technique such that it can reliably alter gene activity without cutting the DNA (which risks introducing mutations). They also tested it to successful treat mouse models of diabetes, acute kidney disease and muscular dystrophy. The original paper is here (probably only intelligible if you have at minimum a molecular biology degree).
The probable origin of the deadly SARS virus has been found in a bat cave in China. I just wanted to write bat cave, to be honest.
One of my lectures of this term covered the molecules that mediate the classic “fight, flight or fright” response to a threatening event. Well it seems that narwhals have a bit of a confused response to a threat they are encountering with greater regularity: humans. In a typical ‘freeze’ response, the heart rate slows, whereas in a ‘flee’ response, it speeds up. After being freed from entanglement in nets, the whales made rapid deep dives — i.e. fleeing — but their heart rates dropped as low as 3–4 beats per minute. In a normal dive they’d do this to conserve oxygen, but in this situation they were swimming far more rapidly, which used a lot of oxygen, a huge stress on their systems. Oh, and the article includes a sound recording of a narwhal’s heartbeat, if you ever wished to listen to one.
Finally, three links relating to bias, psychological traits and fake news.
(1) Targeted advertising could take a new step: mass persuasion based on people’s psychological traits is highly effective. This has already been used to some extent in e.g. targeted Facebook ads during the US election last year.
(2) A thoughtful, objective piece about the phenomenon of fake news, how it can be detected and what can be done about it.
(3) A study of scientific peer review, here, regarding the merits of single-blind review, in which anonymous reviewers know the authors of a paper and their affiliations, compared with double-blind review, in which this information is hidden. This analysis, in the field of computer science, shows that single-blind reviewing confers a significant advantage to papers with famous authors and authors from high-prestige institutions.
Paul Nicklen/NGC/Getty via Nature News.