TGIF Science: funding, CRISPR v. NgAgo, secrets, Zika, & more

Some stuff on my mind for our TGIF Science this week.

Research Funding Ups: NIH. Is it my imagination or is NIH funding slightly improving? This is the overall vibe I’m hearing from the trenches.

TGIF science dart board
Modified Wikipedia image

Research Funding Ups and Downs: CIRM.  CIRM funded some basic research to the tune of a total of $4 million, which is great. On a personal level, just wish my “great idea” had fared better in review there. Kind of a downer, but after a while you get a really thick skin.

I’m still trying to decide what I think of CIRM 2.0’s grant review, especially their “positive” pre-review where there is no scoring or comments. You either make it or are triaged with no explanation or score given to applications. No sour grapes here from me on this particular DISC1 CIRM grant review, but even though my proposal made the cut to get fully reviewed, the actual review was too short, just a handful of vague sentences in total. That’s not helpful.

Secret genome meeting? I’m still scratching my head over that “secret” meeting on a synthetic human genome over at Harvard. They closed the door on the public, the press, etc. The reason given was that a journal had embargoed the heck out of ideas that would be presented at the meeting or something like that. 

CRISPR obsolete soon? George Church was quoted that CRISPR will be obsolete soon because of synthesizing entire genomes from scratch instead (see secret meeting entry above). Then of course there’s the upstart NgAgo that could be simpler and with broader applicability than CRISPR. What do you think of CRISPR versus NgAgo?

My sense is that talk of CRISPR obsolescence is premature kind of like Mark Twain’s quote that reports of his death were exaggerated.

3-person IVF/mitochondrial replacement politics. Call me crazy, but I’m still not a believer than using nuclear transfer to prevent mitochondrial disease (as much as it sounds like a good idea and has a meritorious goal) is ready for prime time use in humans. The new Egli lab paper reinforces my concerns and I’m still surprised at just how political the discussion of this technology has been over the last couple years.

Maybe I’m not crazy for thinking this so much as being outspoken in public with my views on this. It’s almost as though there’s a science taboo on raising concerns on mitochondrial transfer, which is really weird and unscientific. If we can talk about risks of using CRISPR in the germline in humans as has been done extensively in the past 18 months, then we surely can talk openly about risks of using mitochondrial replacement/nuclear transfer in humans too, right?

Zika progress versus hype. Zika has been on my mind lately for a few reasons including writing a grant that is in part on it. Progress on Zika research has been very fast and furious lately. There’s also been a lot of talk about the need for more Zika research funding, which I think is legit. Sometimes I do wonder though if the headlines are hyped in certain instances.

I love NY. For only the second time in my life, I visited NY City. I was there for to speak at a meeting of the Board of the NY state stem cell agency, the Empire State Stem Cell Board. I’m going to post more on this in a few days, but it was a great meeting and I really enjoy NY City itself. I’m not sure if I could live for years right in the middle of a city that intense and crowded, but it’s an awesome place to visit.

2 thoughts on “TGIF Science: funding, CRISPR v. NgAgo, secrets, Zika, & more”

  1. Standardized chromosomes. For various plants and animals. Creating them, selling. Is it possible to switch out entire individual chromosomes? Would it be easier than attempting to identifying and correcting problematic alleles?

  2. Anonymous Stem Cell Repairman

    Paul, CIRM 2.0 at this point is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. They also seem to be going more towards a “treat every lab as a subcontractor” model, except you have to guess what the PO’s exact priorities are. It’s disappointing to be sure, but I suppose they’re allowed to do whatever they want with the money they have left.

    With the genome meeting and editing stuff:

    -Unless there’s some insanely magical method for moving whole genomes reliably into cells in culture that doesn’t involve highly skillful technique and microinjection, this is just another example of George being George and spouting off crazy stuff because, hey, he didn’t say anything explicitly wrong.

    -I feel like it’s becoming more obvious than it’s ever been that Harvard/MIT/Broad are in a “wink-wink, nod-nod, say-no-more” agreement with Nature/Cell/Science and that both groups profit immensely from this at the expense of other scientists and the public. The reason given (something along the lines of “they’re a major journal and we can’t just push them around”) is patently BS. Those three journals (and their publishers) exist because we allow them to. They should be serving the scientific community, not the other way around.

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