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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community Newsletter: COVID-19 at INSAR, PTEN enhancer, baby sib findings

by  /  22 May 2022
Many mouths making conversation, with speech bubbles in red and blue.
Illustration by Laurène Boglio

This week we’re back with tweets unrelated to the first in-person gathering of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) in more than three years, which ended a week ago yesterday. Well, for the most part. Some conference-goers on social media are still lamenting the spread of COVID-19 at the meeting.

News of post-INSAR positive cases — almost a “mathematical certainty,” according to Micheal Sandbank, assistant professor of special education at the University of Texas at Austin — prompted her to pen a thoughtful 19-thread tweet about conference planning with COVID-19 as “an ongoing reality.”

The tweet even includes a link to directions for making a do-it-yourself Corsi-Rosenthal box to filter the air — a crafty switch-up from your standard conference prep.

“THIS. I am still sort of reeling from lack of precautions and disregard for public health. @AutismINSAR we can do and plan better, to protect our communities,” wrote Kristen Lyall, associate professor at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a quote tweet.

Alycia Halladay, chief science officer of the Autism Science Foundation, chimed in to suggest that people share such concerns with INSAR directly.

Two days after Halladay’s tweet, INSAR emailed a statement to in-person attendees, acknowledging that “unfortunately, we have been notified by a few attendees that they tested positive for COVID-19 following the event.”

Autism scientists on Twitter are still trying to quantify just what “a few” means.

The autism-linked gene PTEN starred in another popular series of tweets this week. Christine Mayr, associate professor of cell and developmental biology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, wrote a thread about her new paper that examines the effects of enhancers on the gene. By deleting an endogenous PTEN enhancer, she and her team showed that enhancers — thought to increase mRNA levels via boosted transcript production — also “regulate poly(A) site cleavage activity to control expression of mRNA transcripts with alternative 3′UTRs.”

Kate Galloway, Charles and Hilda Roddey Career Development Professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called it “nice work.”

Robert Flight, a senior research associate at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, made the observation that even though experimentally derived rules translate to explain “how &%*# happens across systems” in other sciences, biology serves up something a little different: “haha hold my beer while I break those assumptions!”

The Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), too, tweeted about new work this past week that documents “associations between 6-month brain networks that may support error-based learning and later ASD-associated behaviors.”

Spectrum covered two other new sets of findings that draw on IBIS data presented at INSAR last week.

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere, feel free to send an email to [email protected].

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