The "Lab Leak" Hypothesis Returns - 2021.01.08
Plus: A lot of other news you may have missed.
☀️ Good morning
And welcome to the first “news-only” issue of Cell Crunch, a once weekly look at current news in biotechnology and synthetic biology. I hope it offers a brief respite from painful political drama. Feel free to comment on this post, or reply to this email.
The Lab Leak Idea Returns
The biggest story this week was the New York magazine cover story, touting the theory that the coronavirus was made in, and leaked from, a Wuhan laboratory (Link to story). It was followed, a few days later, by a Forbes report stating that China had denied entry for an international team aiming to study the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
The New York article focuses largely on gain-of-function studies, and how they might be associated with the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. The article is labeled as investigative journalism but, in my opinion, should not qualify as such. Much of its details were previously known and covered by the Washington Post and others. Multiple sources quoted in the article state that there’s no evidence one way or the other (lab leak vs. ‘natural’) but, nonetheless, the author makes his biases clearly known. The article begins with: “What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe,” and is replete with unnecessary statements, including this statement, about gain-of-function experiments:
“But in the end, Baric was allowed to proceed with his experiments, and the research papers that resulted, showered with money, became a sort of Anarchist’s Cookbook for the rest of the scientific world.”
Other journalists took to Twitter to tear down the article. This thread is worth your while.
📰 More News
Big changes are coming to Bioeconomy.XYZ (the website that hosts this newsletter), including an expansion of biotechnology news coverage and a new managing editor. Alexander Titus also released his proposal for a National Bioeconomy Manufacturing and Innovation Initiative.
The Department of Defense sponsors a university course, called Hacking for Defense, that teaches students how to solve problems relevant to national security. One of the teams wrote about their foray into Hacking for Biomanufacturing, instead. Link
WIRED wrote about five CRISPR-related breakthroughs from 2020. The list includes the Nobel for Doudna and Charpentier, plus mitochondrial editing and a treatment for sickle cell disease. Link
The Verge made a video explaining how they worked with researchers at the University of Washington to encode a “2020 time capsule”—replete with 20 megabytes of images, videos and text—into DNA. I think it’s great that they merged science experiments with explanatory reporting. Link
Adidas is developing shoes made from mycelium mushrooms, according to an article in Business Insider. Is it a PR stunt, or will we actually see sustainable materials rolled out affordably, and at scale? Link
For the first time, researchers used CRISPR to cure progeria in mice. People born with this disease typically only live to their late teens or early twenties. The breakthrough was covered by STAT, Science, and others. Link & Link
A company called New Wave Foods raised $18M in a Series A round for their shrimp alternative made from seaweed and plant proteins. As reported by The Spoon. Link
Tobias Erb’s lab reported in Nature Catalysis, earlier this week, a “new-to-nature” carboxylation system that helps cells to fix carbon dioxide from the air. That paper was very rigorously discussed, and explained, in an article for Ars Technica. Link
Ginkgo Bioworks announced a five-week pilot program of pooled COVID-19 testing for K-12 schools. In the press release, they say that “the pilot is available to K-12 schools across the U.S. at no cost and kicks off January 4, 2021. The program is part of Ginkgo’s COVID-19 testing service, Concentric by Ginkgo, designed to enable low-cost and large-scale testing for schools, businesses, and communities as they look to reopen.” Link
Labiotech.eu published an overview of potential, upcoming highlights for synthetic biology, specifically in Europe. Link
Tel-Aviv University researchers are making milk—that looks and tastes like a cow’s—from yeast. I’d like to try some, please. Link
A recent study demonstrated that CAR-T cells—immune cells genetically altered to fight cancer cells—can be turned ON or OFF with a drug called lenalidomide. That’s according to an article in GEN. Link
TWIST Bioscience is offering an RNA control sequence to help laboratories test patients for the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, according to a press release. Link
Thanks for reading Cell Crunch, part of Bioeconomy.XYZ. If you enjoy this newsletter, please share it with a friend or colleague.