Structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus shown on a screen.

Research highlights August - October 2020

In our research highlights series, representatives of our faculty select their most significant publications from the Crick each quarter. This quarter's papers include Ice Age dog diversity, a new method for intestinal tissue grafts and the evolution of SARS-CoV-2's Spike protein.

Briscoe lab

The clock that sets the speed of development

Species-specific pace of development is associated with differences in protein stability

Rayon et al., Science, 369, eaba7667 (2020)

Researchers in James Briscoe's group have found the clock that sets the speed of embryonic development - the reason pregnancy length differs between species. They discovered that the mechanism is based on how proteins are made and dismantled, and the study could help us understand how different mammals evolved from one another. 

Costa and Uhlmann

Crick team sheds new light on cohesins

A structure-based mechanism for DNA entry into the cohesin ring

Higashi et al., Molecular Cell79, 917-933.E9 (2020)

Cohesins are key chromosome architects, but how they work on DNA remained a mystery. The Alessandro Costa and Frank Uhlmann's groups have now teamed up to arrive at a structure-based model that explains many previous observations and also contains surprises.

Frickel lab

Different ways of tackling pathogens

Human GBP1 differentially targets Salmonella and Toxoplasma to license recognition of microbial ligands and caspase-mediated death

Fisch et al., Cell Reports32, 108008 (2020)

Eva Frickel's lab has found differential mechanisms for guanylate-binding protein (GBP1) in protecting against pathogens. In humans, GBP1 recognises Salmonella and recruits the cell-death inducer caspase-4 onto its surface. In contrast, GBP1 disrupts the Toxoplasma gondii vacuole membrane and the parasite, leading to parasite DNA stimulating host cell death.

Gamblin lab

Coronavirus receptor binding uncovered

Receptor binding and priming of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 for membrane fusion

Benton et al., Nature, 2020

Researchers in Steve Gamblin's group have found that the spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can adopt at least ten distinct structural states when in contact with the human virus receptor, ACE2. This research will help to inform studies into vaccines and treatment for COVID-19. 

Li lab

Mini-organs grown from patient's own tissue

Engineering transplantable jejunal mucosal grafts using patient-derived organoids from children with intestinal failure

Meran et al., Nature Medicine, 26, 1593–1601 (2020)

Vivian Li's group at the Crick has collaborated with Great Ormond Street Hospital and the UCL Institute of Child Health to grow human intestinal grafts using stem cells from patient tissue that could one day lead to personalised transplants for children with intestinal failure. 

Niakan lab

The placenta develops before the embryo

Initiation of a conserved trophectoderm program in human, cow and mouse embryos

Gerri et al., Nature587, 443-447 (2020)

New research from Claudia Gerri and Kathy Niakan's group shows that the first cell decision in human development starts the development of the placenta, days before cells that will eventually form the embryo become specialised. 

Skoglund lab

Tracing canine diversity to the Ice Age

Origins and genetic legacy of prehistoric dogs

Bergström et al., Science370, 557-564 (2020)

In a global study, published in Science and led by Pontus Skoglund and Anders Bergström, the team studied ancient DNA from 27 dogs, some of which lived up to 11,000 years ago. They found that there were different types of dogs more than 11,000 years ago in the period immediately following the Ice Age.

Swanton lab

Scientists uncover order in cancer’s chromosomal chaos

Pervasive chromosomal instability and karyotype order in tumour evolution

Watkins et al., Nature587, 126-132 (2020)

Researchers in the Charlie Swanton's lab at the Crick in collaboration with the UCL Cancer Institute have identified how different cancers go through some of the same genetic mutations at the same point in their evolution. The findings could bring scientists one-step closer to developing an 'evolutionary rule book' that helps predict and block cancer’s next move.

Turner lab

New insights into mammalian evolution

A single-cell transcriptome atlas of marsupial embryogenesis and X inactivation

Mahadevaiah et al., Nature, 586, 612-617 (2020)

In a new Nature paper, the James Turner's group has defined the first single-cell transcriptomic landscape of embryogenesis in a marsupial, the opossum. Comparing their data to those from human embryos has allowed them to identify deeply conserved, critical regulators of early mammalian development.

Vincent and Salbreau

Engineering a morphogen in vivo

Patterning and growth control in vivo by an engineered GFP gradient

Stapornwongkul et al., Science370, 321-327 (2020)

A study from the Vincent and Salbreux groups describes how an inert protein, green fluorescent protein, can be turned into a morphogen that controls growth and patterning in the Drosophila wing. This synthetic biology approach could inspire new strategies for regenerative medicine.