A team of researchers has genetically engineered an octopus for the first time in history, an important step in the study of cephalopods.
Marine Biological Laboratory researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to eliminate a gene in squid embryos Doryteuthis pealeii that removed the pigment from their eye and skin cells, said Joshua Rosenthal, a senior scientist and study author.
One of the biggest challenges, according to Rosenthal, was to transport the gene editing system through the hard outer layer of the embryo. The egg was cut off with microscissors.
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The squid typically has dark eyes and a number of black and auburn spots on its body, while the genetically modified hatchlings have light pink or red eyes and almost no dark spots.
The milestone, first reported in Current Biology Thursday, could pave the way for researchers to study the biology of cephalopods such as squid, squid and squid just as they study more common laboratory animals such as study mice and fruit flies.
“This is only a first step to show that the skills are there,” said Rosenthal, noting that squids have more than 25,000 genes to which this technology could be applied. “This paper really opens up a new way of biological questioning.”
About three years ago, scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory launched an initiative to develop a cephalopod that is “genetically traceable”, which means that its genes could be manipulated, said Rosenthal. He said cephalopods offer “really cool genetic opportunities,” in part because they have the largest brain of all invertebrates and the ability to camouflage themselves and comprehensively re-encode their own genetic information.
Rosenthal and his colleagues achieved their results by “switching off” a gene responsible for pigmentation. Knock-out genes allow researchers to test what individual genes do, while knock-in genes can be added to facilitate studying neuronal activities or other processes.
The researchers hope to be able to transfer the new knock-out technology to a smaller cephalopod species, due in part to the fact that Doryteuthis pealeii is not a good candidate for laboratory rearing due to its size.
Research into Doryteuthis pealeii, found in the waters near Woods Hole, Massachusetts, has led to significant advances in neurobiology, and Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley received a Nobel Prize in 1963.
Rosenthal hopes to use this technology to advance his own research into how this squid and other cephalopods process their own mRNA, which could have biomedical applications such as pain therapy.
“The squid holds a real secret for very high-precision and active RNA processing,” he said.
He said this technology could also enable researchers to study how cephalopods have developed such large brains and complex behaviors that could have an impact on artificial intelligence. Further animal studies could also be used in the areas of evolution, medicine, robotics and military technology.
“This is groundbreaking for me. I was interested in understanding how these animals work on a molecular level,” Carrie Albertin, another member of the research team, told NPR. “But you know, I didn’t think it would be possible. And yet we’re here.”
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
This article originally appeared in the U.S. TODAY: Scientists are genetically engineering squids for the first time to achieve a breakthrough breakthrough
Video: Scientists Genetically Modify Squid for Breakthrough Breakthrough (USA TODAY)