Tidying up biomedical research, a new human prion points to Parkinson-like illness, and a new twist in controversial flu research. This week in Abstract Science.

Tidying Up Biomedical Research

(The Scientist, 9/1/15, Kerry Grens)

From authenticating cell lines to identifying mislabeled genomic sequences and developing purer reagents, researchers across the life sciences are engaging in the fight against irreproducible research caused by contaminants. A prominent example is the vision field, where two journals will no longer accept papers that use a cell line that was originally thought to originate from a rat retina but later determined to have come from a mouse. Researchers are also developing cell-line validation standards and reference guides listing known cross-contaminated cell lines.

First Human Prion in 50 Years

(Scientific American, 9/1/15, Simon Makin)

Prion, short for proteinaceous infectious particle, describes the self-propagating protein responsible for mad cow disease, which afflicts cattle, and variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow. A study appearing this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes a new human prion—the first in 50 years—that appears to have triggered multiple system atrophy (MSA), a neurodegenerative disease similar to Parkinson’s. The scientists who made the discovery are affiliated with Stanley Prusiner, who coined the term prion and advanced the idea that a prion could transmit disease. The theory was radical at the time but eventually earned him a Nobel Prize in 1997.

New Twist in Flu Study Controversy

(Science, 9/2/2015, Jon Cohen)

A research group from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have engineered  heartier influenza viruses that could streamline vaccine production and help bring future pandemics under control faster. But the findings, described this year in Nature Communications, also raise questions about so-called gain-of-function studies in which viruses are made more transmissible or more pathogenic in order to better under their pandemic potential and inform public health disaster planning. The US government suspended funding of GOF studies last year and launched a detailed review of such research over concerns about biosafety and biosecurity. The work by the University of Wisconsin study predated that GOF moratorium.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery