The five biggest Crick research stories of 2022

To mark the end of another year of research, we're sharing some of the science stories that made the biggest splash on the Crick website this year. From discoveries about the role of specific genes in modern diseases to revelations about the origin of dogs through ancient DNA, this is just a sample of the many findings to come out of the Crick in 2022.  


Scientists find a genetic cause of lupus

An international team of researchers has identified DNA mutations in a specific gene, TLR7, as a cause of the autoimmune disease lupus.

Lupus can be a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease with no cure, and in the last 60 or so years only a single new treatment has been approved by the FDA. The researchers who discovered the cause are working with pharmaceutical companies to explore the repurposing of treatments that target the TLR7 gene.

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Ice Age wolf DNA reveals dogs trace ancestry to two separate wolf populations.

An international group of researchers led by the Crick’s ancient genomics lab traced the ancestry of dogs back to at least two different populations of ancient wolves.

The researchers analysed 72 different ancient wolf genomes spanning the last 100,000 years from Europe, Siberia and North America. They found that two separate populations of wolves contributed DNA to modern dogs – an Eastern population in Asia, and a more Westerly population in the Middle East.

The findings suggest that wolves may have undergone domestication more than once, or that early domesticated dogs started mixing with wild wolves.

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Promising developments in pursuit to design pan-coronavirus vaccine

Crick researchers have shown that a specific area of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein could make a promising target for a vaccine. The area, they’ve found, is particularly resistant to mutations, which means it looks similar across a wide range of coronaviruses.

Developing a vaccine that in turn triggers antibodies which recognise this area could offer some protection against new virus variants and common colds, and may help prepare for future pandemics.

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Researchers uncover where and why proteins malfunction in Parkinson’s disease

Scientists at the Crick, UCL, and the University of Edinburgh uncovered how a build-up of harmful, misfolded protein happens within neurons in Parkinson’s disease, which ultimately causes those neurons to die.

The paper’s authors used advanced technologies to shift the way in which we understand how proteins misfold in human cells. This will have a meaningful impact on therapeutic design, and is already changing the way people think about Parkinson’s disease.

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Scientists reveal how air pollution can cause lung cancer in people who have never smoked

Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at the Crick and UCL revealed how air pollution can cause lung cancer in people who have never smoked.

The researchers found that exposure to certain kinds of particulate matter in the air, known as PM2.5, promotes the growth of cells that carry cancer-causing mutations. These cells are normally inactive, but the researchers demonstrated that air pollution can wake them up, encouraging them to grow and potentially form tumours in the lungs.

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