In this week's Nature Communications, researchers from Aarhus University reported the whole genome sequence of the social velvet spider and a draft genome sequence of the tarantula, providing new insights into their production of venom and silk. The study points to proteins that may be involved in the processing and activation of toxins in venom and offers clues about the composition of spider silk proteins. The findings open the door to opportunities for pharmacological applications of venom and biomaterial applications of silk.
Meanwhile, in Nature Methods, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team describe the use of a bacterial immune system to create genetic circuits in human cells. The approach is based off of the CRISPR/Cas9 system, which causes double-strand breaks in target DNA and has recently been adapted for selective gene editing. The MIT group modified the system so that it can be targeted to synthetic promoters and transcription initiation sites by the binding of the easily programmed guide RNAs. They also showed regulatory cascades, essential for genetic circuits, in which one guide RNA regulates the transcription of another, which in turn regulates reporter gene expression.