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News / Spotted

Spotted: Supercharged brains; CRISPR count

by  /  5 June 2015

WEEK OF
June 1st

Supercharged brains

A new study bolsters a controversial theory that people with autism have ‘hyperfunctional’ brains that perceive the world in fragments, its details vivid but the big picture obscured. Proponents say this ‘intense world theory’ could explain why some people with autism are hypersensitive to certain stimuli.

 

In the study, published Tuesday in Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers found that a structured environment that’s free of surprises can ease anxiety and social withdrawal in a rat model of autism. We covered the workat the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. Lead researcher Kamila Markram, Autism Project director at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, notes that many autism interventions incorporate structure and routines, but not sufficiently. “We say you have to put it at the center and you need to be addressing sensory overflow,” Markram told Time. Markram proposed the intense word theory with her husband, Henry Markram, in 2007. She is also co-founder and CEO of Frontiers, which published the theory and the new study.

CRISPR count

If you want to see how the gene-editing tool CRISPR has revolutionized research, just look at the numbers. About 600 papers mentioned the tool in 2014 — nearly double the number from 2013. The trajectory mirrors that of induced pluripotent stem cells, another groundbreaking research tool. CRISPR also appeared in nearly 175 patent applications in 2014. These trends are bound to continue, as National Institutes of Health funding for CRISPR projects passed $80 million last year. The stunning stats, summarized in an infographic published Wednesday in Nature, suggest the CRISPR boom is just beginning.

Heated read

An op-ed in this week’s Guardian highlights the dangerous power of anecdotal evidence. The piece describes “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” the second book by psychiatrist Norman Doidge. Doidge describes the apparent recovery of two men with autism after they underwent a form of ‘sound therapy’ invented in the ‘60s. Benison O’Reilly, a medical writer whose son has autism, says she was unable to finish the book. “Unfairly or not, my knowledge of autism has made me skeptical about the entire book,” she wrote in her review, which citesresearch debunking the costly ‘cure.’ “How many other inconvenient facts have been quietly airbrushed out, all in the name of a good story?”

Postdoc paths

We’ve talked about the ‘postdoc pileup’ — the backlog of would-be profs who are unable to land faculty positions and don’t know what else to do. It turns out that not all postdocs are in this pickle. A story published Wednesday in Science highlights the small number of industry postdocs. These positions, based in biotech companies and national labs, make up an estimated 11 percent of the nation’s postdocs, according to a 2014 report from the U.S. National Academies.

 

Instead of languishing in academic limbo, young scientists can move on to a range of research jobs in more stably funded labs. “A lot of professors and mentors believe that for a Ph.D. to move to industry, that’s a failure or a shame,” Lei-yun Weng, postdoc at the Maryland-based biotech firm MedImmune, told Science. “It’s about you, what you want to do, what kind of science research is interesting for you, and what kind of career path you want to take.”


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