In order to demonstrate that CRISPR gene-slicing technology can be used on even the smallest organism, scientists have created a strain of “red-eyed mutant wasps”
To produce the mutant wasps scientists from the University of California’s Riverside’s Akbari lab took eggs that are about a quarter the size of a grain of rice, injected them with components to mutate the DNA and put them inside a blowfly pupae (a type of cocoon).
Eventually the team also developed a protocol where genes that control the colour of the wasp’s normally black eyes were sliced.
The technique is challenging, said Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology who led the research team, “but it is learnable. You need a really steady hand and it requires a lot of patience in micro manipulation that one can learn over time.
“You have to use a very-very fine needle and a microscope and individually inject hundreds to thousands of embryos, but in the end, we developed a protocol that can be used to cut the DNA in this organism and we showed that it works.”
The purpose of developing a mutation in the wasps was to give scientists a new way of studying some of the wasp’s interesting biology.
Parasitic jewel wasps are capable of converting all their offspring into males by using selfish genetic elements.
By mutating certain chromosomes, the scientists will be able to identify genes that enable the wasps to kill female embryos, as well as allowing them to see how disrupting the wasps DNA affects the organism.
No one knows how that selfish genetic element in some male wasps “can somehow kill the female embryos and create only males,” said Akbari.
“To understand that, we need to pursue their PSR (paternal sex ratio) chromosomes, perhaps by mutating regions of the PSR chromosome to determine which genes are essential for its functionality.”
The scientists believe that their discoveries will, in time, provide a better understanding of the biology of wasps and other insects.
The research will also contribute to controlling insects that destroy crops or spread diseases like malaria.
As for the current batch of mutated scarlet-orbed wasps, they won’t be going away anytime soon.
The cuts in the DNA created mutant wasps with heritable traits, which means their red eyes will be passed down to all their offspring in the future.