Spotted: Small scissors; fish flop

The gene-editing tool CRISPR gets scaled down for mice, and omega-3 fatty acids come up short for autism.

By Katie Moisse
3 April 2015 | 3 min read
This article is more than five years old.
Neuroscience—and science in general—is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.
  • April is Autism Awareness Month, in which world monuments ‘light it up blue,’ shining blue lights to spread the word about the disorder. But it’s a dark month for Kim Stagliano, who has three daughters with autism. “For families living with autism, reality is far more sober, and their needs extend far beyond ‘awareness,’” Stagliano wrote in an editorial yesterday in The Washington Post. “For me, this should be a month of solemn acknowledgement and education about a global crisis.”
  • The gene-editing tool CRISPR can quickly cut out, splice in, activate and mutate genes in cells. But the large size of the tool’s scissorlike enzyme, CAS9, makes it tricky to use in living animals. Now researchers have found a way to shrink CRISPR down. They used the new system, called CRISPR-SaCAS9, to introduce a cholesterol-regulating gene into the livers of mice. The new gene lowered cholesterol levels in the mice for four weeks, according to the study, published 1 April in Nature. The tweaked tool could help researchers target mutations in mouse models of autism.
  • Those awe-inspiring three-dimensional renderings of neurons are about to get a little prettier. A new project dubbed BigNeuron, spearheaded by the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, aims to establish best practices for imaging individual neurons. This effort could help researchers home in on neuronal structures altered in autism. “In our quest to learn how the brain works, one of the fundamental steps is to understand how neurons function, and an individual neuron’s shape is a major contributor to its role in the brain,” Allan Jones, the institute’s chief executive officer, said in a statement 31 March.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements do not improve language skills or the ability to function in daily life in children with autism, according to results of a six-month trial. The randomized, placebo controlled trial, published 21 March in Molecular Autism, adds to mounting evidence that the fish-oil-based supplements have no effect on autism symptoms. Many parents may be disappointed by this message. A 2007 study probing supplement use among families of children with autism revealed that nearly one in four caregivers provide supplements, including omega-3s, as an alternative approach to treating the disorder.
  • Are mice more likely to interact in a square cage with cozy corners or in a circular one? It’s an important question for researchers studying social behavior in mouse models of autism. News bulletin: The shape of the cage doesn’t matter. Male mice are just as likely to nuzzle noses or vocalize in either environment, according to a study published 25 March in PLoS One.