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Science Past and Future

The gene-editing tool CRISPR fueled two of the top science stories of the 2010s, according to LiveScience.

The first came in 2015, it says, when researchers from Sun Yat-sen University reported that they used CRISPR/Cas9 to alter the beta-globin gene (HBB) that causes beta-thalassemia in non-viable human zygotes. The journal that published the paper, Protein and Cell, said it did so as the "sounding of an alarm." Just three years later, LiveScience notes, He Jiankui announced he edited the genomes of twin girls as embryos, a revelation that led to widespread condemnation. 

CRISPR also makes New Scientist's list of big science stories of the 2010s, as does the use of gene therapy to treat a one-year-old with leukemia and the discovery of the ancient hominin group the Denisovans.

Looking ahead to the next year, Nature says to keep watch on efforts to develop a synthetic form of baker's yeast as well as stem cell-based work to grow replacement organs for people in other animals. At the same time, the Los Angeles Times says 2020 might be the year when liquid biopsies show their promise.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.