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Science Reports on Approach to Detect Multiple RNA Biomarkers, Studies of Bacteriophages' Z Genomes

A diagnostic platform that can detect multiple RNA biomarkers in a single test using noncanonical CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) is described in Science this week. In the report, a team led by scientists from the Helmholtz-Center for Infection Research finds that crRNAs, which are used in CRISPR-Cas9 systems to target foreign genetic material for degradation, can be derived from cellular RNAs not associated with viral defense in type II CRISPR systems. Based on this, the investigators engineered crRNAs that link the presence of an RNA of interest to DNA targeting with different Cas9 orthologs, forming the basis for their multiplexable diagnostic platform. They demonstrate the platform by detecting RNAs from multiple viruses in a single test, as well as distinguishing SARS-CoV-2 from one of its variants with single-base resolution in patient samples.

Three studies appearing in Science this week provide new details about the Z-genome of bacteriophages. Genomic DNA is composed of four standard nucleotides, each with a different nucleobase — adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G) — that is conserved across all domains of life. However, around 40 years ago, the DNA virus cyanophage S-2L was discovered with all instances of A substituted with 2-aminoadenine (Z) throughout its genome. In two of the papers, independent teams from Tianjin University and Institut Pasteur characterize the proteins involved in the biosynthesis of Z, while in the third paper a group led by investigators from Université Paris-Saclay identify a Z-specific polymerase that is responsible for assembling Z-substituted DNA from available nucleotides. In an accompanying perspective, a pair of Yale University researchers discuss the implications of the findings and how they may help drive new innovations in materials and biotechnology.

The Scan

Guidelines for Ancient DNA Work

More than two dozen researchers have developed new ethical guidelines for conducting ancient DNA research, which they present in Nature.

And Cleared

A UK regulator has cleared former UK Prime Minister David Cameron in concerns he should have registered as a consultant-lobbyist for his work with Illumina, according to the Financial Times.

Suit Over Allegations

The Boston Globe reports that David Sabatini, who was placed on leave from MIT after allegations of sexual harassment, is suing his accuser, the Whitehead Institute, and the institute's director.

Nature Papers on Esophageal Cancer, Origin of Modern Horses, Exome Sequencing of UK Biobank Participants

In Nature this week: genetic and environmental influences of esophageal cancer, domestic horse origin traced to Western Eurasian steppes, and more.