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This Week in Nature: Oct 22, 2015

In Nature Biotechnology this week, a team of South Korean scientists presents a study demonstrating DNA-free genome editing in plants using the genome-editing technology CRISPR/Cas9. While altering a plant's genome has the potential to improve its resistance to disease and other stressors as well as improving yield, concerns exist around using foreign DNA to genetically modify organisms. To address these potential regulatory issues, the researchers developed an approach in which preassembled CRISPR/Cas9 components were introduced into plant protoplasts of Arabidopsis, tobacco, lettuce, and rice, achieving targeted mutagenesis in regenerated plants at frequencies up to 46 percent. Notably, the targeted sites contained germline-transmissible small insertions or deletions that were indistinguishable from naturally occurring genetic variation.

In Nature Genetics, a multi-institute team of researchers reports on the discovery of new risk loci for atopic dermatitis. By conducting a meta-analysis of more than 15 million genetic variants in 21,000 individuals with the condition and 91,000 controls from European, African, Japanese, and Latino ancestry, the investigators uncovered 10 new disease risk loci, including candidate genes involved in regulation of innate host defenses and T cell function, highlighting the contribution of autoimmune mechanisms to the disease. GenomeWeb has more on this study, here.

Also in Nature Genetics, a team of European researchers presents details of new genetic variants associated with an increased risk of cirrhosis in heavy drinkers. By performing a genome-wide association study in heavy drinkers of European descent with and without cirrhosis, the researchers found variants of three genes that confer a greater risk of developing cirrhosis. The genes are all involved in fat processing and, notably, overlap with susceptibility genes for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, suggesting that the genes could serve as therapeutic targets for both conditions. GenomeWeb also has more on this study, here.