Scientists at the University of Georgia have announced that they have become the first in the world to produce genetically modified reptiles. The team was able to produce four albino lizards using the CRISPR-CAS9 gene editing tool. The CRISPR tool consists of injecting gene editing solutions into a newly fertilized egg or into an embryo of a cell.
This causes a mutation in the DNA that reproduces in all subsequent cells. The team says there were significant challenges with its progress. One is that female reptiles store sperm in oviducts or for long periods of time, which makes accurate identification difficult when fertilization occurs.
The physiology of reptile eggs, with flexible shells and no airspace inside, makes it difficult to handle embryos without damaging them. The species of reptile with which the team worked is called Anolis sagrei, commonly known as the brown anole. The team microinjected CRISPR proteins into multiple immature ova in the lizard ovaries that attacked the tyrosinase gene.
The team injected 146 oocytes from 21 lizards and waited for them to be fertilized naturally. In a few weeks, the experiment produced four lizards with indications that the process was successful thanks to the production of a quartet of albino lizards.
This species of lizard in particular was chosen because it extends to all the islands of the Caribbean. All the lizards that the team used for the study were collected in a wild area near Orlando, Florida. The team observed that the mutant lizards had shown the tyrosinase manipulated in the genes inherited from the mother and father.
This shows that the CRISPR reagent remained active in the mother's oocyte. This indicates that the CRISPR reagent mutated the paternal genes after fertilization.