A team of researchers genetically altered squid for the first time in history, an important step in the study of cephalopods.
Researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to eliminate a gene in the embryos of squid Doryteuthis pealeii, which removed the pigment from eye and skin cells, according to Joshua Rosenthal, senior scientist and author of the study.
Rosenthal said one of the biggest challenges was to deliver the gene editing system through the hard outer layer of the embryo, a procedure that involved clipping the egg with the microscopes.
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Squid typically have dark eyes and an array of black and reddish brown spots around their bodies while genetically modified bellows have light pink or red eyes and almost no dark spots.
The important step, first reported in Thursday’s Current Biology, could pave the way for researchers to study the biology of cephalopods such as squid, octopus and cuttlefish in the same way they study animals. the most common laboratory such as studying mice and fruit flies.
“This is just the first step in showing that the capabilities are there,” Rosenthal said, noting that squid have more than 25,000 genes to which this technology can be applied. “This paper is really opening up a new species for biological interrogation.”
About three years ago, scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory launched an initiative to develop a cephalopod that was “genetically traceable,” in the sense that its genes could be manipulated, Rosenthal said. He said cephalopods offer “really cool genetic possibilities” in part because they have the greatest brain of all invertebrates and the ability to hide themselves and extensively review their own genetic information.
Rosenthal and colleagues achieved their results by “knocking” a gene responsible for pigmentation. “Knocking out” genes allow researchers to test what individual genes do while “knocking in” can add genes that make it easier to study neural activity or other processes.
Researchers are hoping to transfer the new knock-out technology to smaller cephalopod species because Doryteuthis pealeii is not a good candidate to raise in a lab in part because of its size.
Research on Doryteuthis pealeii, which can be found in the waters near Woods Hole, Massachusetts, led to great advances in neurobiology, earning Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley the Nobel Prize in 1963.
Rosenthal said he hopes to use this technology to continue his own research on how this squid and other cephalopods edit their own mRNAs, which may have biomedical applications, such as pain management therapy.
“Squid have a real secret in highly accurate and very active RNA editing,” he said.
He said this technology could also allow researchers to study how cephalopods such as large brains and complex behaviors have evolved, which could have implications for artificial intelligence. Further animal studies may also have applications in evolution, medicine, robotics and military technology.
“For me, this is turning into a game. I was interested in trying to understand how these animals work from the molecular level,” Carrie Albertin, another member of the research team, told NPR. “But, you know, I don’t think it will be possible. And yet here we are.”
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
This article originally appeared on the US TODAY: Scientists genetically change squid for the first time in a ‘game-changing’ advance
Video: Scientists genetically change squid for first time in ‘game-changing’ breakthrough (USA TODAY)