2021 in Science… so far – Olivia Hesketh

At the moment, it seems like our lives are dominated by constant mentions of social distancing and coronavirus case numbers. This is inevitable considering the fact that we are living through a pandemic. But coronavirus aside, 2021 so far has brought many fascinating and promising scientific developments of which we don’t tend to see reported on the news. For this reason, I have compiled a short summary of two very recent scientific breakthroughs which you may find interesting.


CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing used to increase the production of MRSA targeting antibiotic

Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have recently used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to produce a new strain of Streptomycetes formiae bacteria which is able to overproduce the antibiotic formicamycin.

The fascinating thing about formicamycin is that the ‘superbug’ MRSA doesn’t appear to become resistant to it. Streptomycetes formiae was first isolated from the nests of African ants (Tetraponera penzigi), these ants can use formicamycins to protect themselves and their food source against pathogens.

The scientists used genome editing to modify the regulatory genes within the bacteria and thus control the amount of antibiotic produced. They discovered a biosynthetic gene cluster composed of 24 genes which are controlled by three key regulatory genes. Essentially, through the discovery of these regulators, they added an extra copy of the formicamycin boosting gene (forGF) and deleted the repressor gene (forJ). This process allowed maximised production of formicamycin. In doing this, they have produced a strain that produces ten times more formicamycin on agar plates and even more in liquid culture. The next steps in their research will include purifying a large enough quantity of formicamycin to investigate its mode of action, in particular how and why MRSA doesn’t become resistant to it. (John Innes Centre, 2021).

Tetraponera penzigi, a species of ant which uses formicamycin to protect themselves against pathogens. Credit: Dr Dino J. Martins, 2021



A drug already used to treat type 2 diabetes shows promising results in promoting weight loss in obese individuals

Semaglutide is a drug given by injection which controls blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. However, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine discovered that Semaglutide can also be used to suppress appetite. Researchers gathered a group of 1,961 randomly selected adults who were either overweight or obese and didn’t have diabetes.

Each individual received a weekly injection containing either 2.4 mg Semaglutide or a placebo over the course of 68 weeks. They also received individual monthly counselling to provide diet and exercise support. The results at the end of the 68-week period revealed that the individuals who had received Semaglutide lost a mean of 14.9% of their body weight compared with a 2.4% loss in individuals who took the placebo. The patients who were given Semaglutide also displayed a greater improvement regarding cardiometabolic risk factors. This is very promising news. However, at the moment, the long term side effects of this treatment for obese patients is unknown and it is thought that individuals would have to remain on Semaglutide for life in order to prevent weight gain. (Wilding et al, 2021).

Semaglutide, a drug used for type 2 diabetes treatment shows promise in future obesity interventions. Credit: Rajeswaran, 2020

Obviously, the research behind these discoveries was far more complex than described above. If you would like to learn any more about these studies please review the reference list at the end of this post.


John Innes Centre (2021). Gene-editing produces tenfold increase in superbug slaying antibiotics. [online] Available at: <https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/jic-gpt011221.php> [Accessed 27 February 2021].

Martins, D.J. (2021). Gene-editing produces tenfold increase in superbug slaying antibiotics. [online] Available at: <https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/jic-gpt011221.php> [Accessed 27 February 2021].

Rajeswaran, C., 2020. All about Ozempic (Semaglutide) – The London Obesity Clinic. [online] The London Obesity Clinic. Available at: <https://www.thelondonobesityclinic.com/all-about-ozempic-semaglutide/> [Accessed 28 February 2021].

Wilding, J., Batterham, R., Calanna, S., Davies, M., Van Gaal, L., Lingvay, I., McGowan, B., Rosenstock, J., Tran, M., Wadden, T., Wharton, S., Yokote, K., Zeuthen, N. and Kushner, R. (2021). Once-Weekly Semaglutide in Adults with Overweight or Obesity. New England Journal of Medicine