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April 28, 2016

USC Stem Cell study illuminates bone formation and vertebrate evolution

Rendition of developing vertebrate bones. In their study, Hojo and colleagues address the transcriptional action and evolution of Sp7/Osx, a key determinant of vertebrate-restricted bone forming osteoblasts. (Painting by Kristen Chen; courtesy of Developmental Cell 2016)

Rendition of developing vertebrate bones. In their study, Hojo and colleagues address the transcriptional action and evolution of Sp7/Osx, a key determinant of vertebrate-restricted bone forming osteoblasts. (Painting by Kristen Chen; courtesy of Developmental Cell 2016)

By Cristy Lytal

With the emergence of bone, the diversity of life expanded to encompass the bone-forming vertebrates, a group of species ranging from the tiny frog Paedophryne amauensis to the mighty blue whale. Bone formation in vertebrates is linked to a shared gene, called Sp7 or Osterix, that acts early in establishing the bone-forming cells or osteoblasts.

In a new study in Developmental Cell, Hironori Hojo from the USC Stem Cell laboratory of Andrew McMahon and colleagues reveal how Sp7 directs the development of bone-secreting osteoblasts to fashion the skeleton.

“This is a wonderful example of how a narrow focus on the workings of a single gene illuminates bigger questions on the evolution of a skeletal scaffold we mammals share with fish, frogs, lizard and birds,” said Andrew McMahon, senior author and W.M. Keck Provost Professor and chair of the Department of Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

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April 28, 2016

USC Stem Cell scientists enter the conversation about CRISPR

3-D printed Cas9 enzyme that snips a DNA sequence at a location identified by CRISPR. (Photo courtesy of the NIH 3D Print Exchange, National Institutes of Health)

3-D printed Cas9 enzyme that snips a DNA sequence at a location identified by CRISPR. (Photo courtesy of the NIH 3D Print Exchange, National Institutes of Health)

By Zen Vuong

CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene-editing technique that enables scientists to disable, replace or modify sections of DNA. It allows for unprecedented precision and speed in the field of genome editing. It has been used to create micropigs to be sold as pets and to try to eradicate HIV infection in humans.

The scientific community is concerned about altering human embryos to create “designer babies,” but some USC Stem Cell experts say that in the United States, CRISPR-Cas9’s use on plants and animals will make waves first. Should these edited organisms be labeled as genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Questions about environmental consequences, the ethics of consent and public policy need to be addressed.

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