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You’ve Got GT on the Brain


Just a few years ago, words with the prefix “neuro” weren’t all that common among genomic and proteomic scientists. When we thought about doing theme issues for Genome Technology, cancer was an obvious choice — but after that, no particular research target was really universal enough to merit its own magazine.

Times certainly have changed. From using comparative genomics for figuring out how the human brain evolved to tracking the movement of every protein in the brain, the people and tools that comprise systems biology have come out in full force to make neuroscience their own.

In this special issue of GT, we offer a number of ways to see what’s going on in neuro research. Our cover story, planned by senior editor Jen Crebs (who, helpfully, once worked in a leading neuroscience lab), features a number of cutting-edge scientists whose work relies on gene expression, RNAi, and proteomics, to name a few. It’s far from comprehensive, but should serve as a good sampling of some of the most innovative brain research from systems biology disciplines. Many thanks to Jen, whose excellent planning and hard work may have shrunk her hippocampus but led to a story I think you’ll find quite valuable.

We also serve up a profile of Janelia Farm, Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s big-ticket play in high-risk, high-reward research. Scientists at the Farm focus on neuroscience and imaging — and they never have to write a grant. Our Pattern Recognition column offers a look at some recent grants made in genomics, proteomics, and RNAi efforts targeting the brain. And finally, we are lucky to have Mike Hawrylycz, informatics director at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, as our guest columnist for this month’s Informatics Insider. Hawrylycz discusses the informatics challenges in building the recently launched final version of the Allen Brain Atlas, a 3D map of gene expression in the mouse brain.

So the brain isn’t your thing? We’ve got a feature story this month on RNAi delivery. Ever since this field exploded, “clinic” has been the magic word for grants as well as private-sector funding. But the delivery dilemma still stands between good science and the bedside, as researchers just aren’t sure how to reliably and accurately send siRNAs or shRNAs into patients. (As one scientist moaned: If only humans had tails!) Check out that story for the latest efforts to make RNAi an effective medical treatment.

Finally, for a little fun, our humor page is a guide to Halloween — with the harried scientist in mind. If you, like me, remember this holiday only when someone says, “Hey, what costume are you wearing tonight?”, then we’ve got your back. Check out p. 50 for the best time-saving approaches.

The Scan

Mosquitos Genetically Modified to Prevent Malaria Spread

A gene drive approach could be used to render mosquitos unable to spread malaria, researchers report in Science Advances.

Gut Microbiomes Allow Bears to Grow to Similar Sizes Despite Differing Diets

Researchers in Scientific Reports find that the makeup of brown bears' gut microbiomes allows them to reach similar sizes even when feasting on different foods.

Finding Safe Harbor in the Human Genome

In Genome Biology, researchers present a new approach to identify genomic safe harbors where transgenes can be expressed without affecting host cell function.

New Data Point to Nuanced Relationship Between Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder

Lund University researchers in JAMA Psychiatry uncover overlapping genetic liabilities for major depression and bipolar disorder.