Mar 27, 2015 04:23 PM EDT
Earlier in the week we covered a breakthrough in scientists' ability to create transgenic mice for medical and other biological research. This was thanks to a relatively new tool for genome editing known as CRISPR-Cas9. In case you didn't think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, we have not one, not two, but three more breakthroughs related to this technique.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a mechanism naturally found in bacteria, and is how they defend themselves against viruses. They use specific strands of RNA to bind to viral DNA, which allows an enzyme to specifically target and chop up the invader. With only some minor tweaking, scientists can isolates these proteins and modify the RNA. This allows them to target and cut out virtually any gene, in essentially any organism.
Lately it's just been a matter of trying it on different organisms and getting it to work. To that end, Eureka Alert reports that researchers at Rockefeller University modified mosquitoes with CRISPR-Cas9. This is extremely important because not only are mosquitoes annoying, but a major carrier of disease.
Currently they only modified the species of mosquito that carries things like yellow and a dengue fever. But they say the carrier of malaria is next on their list. Being able to quickly and efficiently create modified mosquitoes is essential for studying them. Being able to knock out a gene shows the researchers what function it plays. Understanding the genes and proteins that govern mosquito behavior could lead to more strategies for repelling or killing them. With the ultimate goal of obviously eliminating mosquito borne illnesses.
We did promise multiple breakthroughs, so let's quickly recap some other news coming out of Physorg. Multiple groups are experimenting with the possibility of using CRISPR-Cas9 to actually fight bacteria themselves. This is somewhat ironic since the mechanism is originally from the bacterial immune system.
But it makes sense, since it is bacterial in nature it would be extremely difficult for bacteria to adapt resistance. Resistance to current antibiotics is a growing problem in medicine, and targeting essential bacterial genes with CRISPR-Cas9 could be the solution. They couldn't evolve a defense without interfering with their own immune system against viruses. However this is all very hypothetical as scientists need to develop a delivery mechanism. Still this technique has shown to be promising when the system is inserted in a highly controlled environment.
Finally, we have researchers from the University of Maryland using this new tool to modify pigs. 18 piglets were successfully born after being modified by CRISPR-Cas9. Pigs are also an important animal model in medical research and being able to easily modify them offers similar benefits to modified mice. As an added bonus, this tool can also be used to insert genes. The researchers said that there was a possibility of making the GM pigs for human consumption. Such modifications might include a natural resistance to the flu and other changes that increase animal welfare.