Scientists genetically turn squid into ‘game-changing’ success for the first time


A team of researchers has transformed a squid for the first time in history, an important step in the study of cephalopholes.


According to Joshua Roshal, a senior scientist and author of the study, researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to eliminate a gene in the embryo of Marine Biolothis piali.



Longfin inshore squid (Dorutethis mealy) hatchling.  At the top is a control hatchling and at the bottom, embryos were first injected with CRISPR-Cas9 targeting a pigmentation gene prior to cell division.


© Karen Crawford
Longfin inshore squid (Dorutethis mealy) hatchling. At the top is a control hatchling and at the bottom, embryos were first injected with CRISPR-Cas9 targeting a pigmentation gene prior to cell division.

Rosenthal said one of the biggest challenges was to deliver the gene editing system through the hard outer layer of the embryo, a process that involved clipping the eggs with a microscope.

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Squid usually have darker eyes and have black and reddish brown spots on their body, while genetically altered hatches have light pink or red eyes and almost no dark spots.

The milestone, first reported on Thursday in Current Biology, could pave the way for researchers to study the biology of organisms such as squid, octopus and cuttlefish, the way they study mice and fruit flies. More common labs study animals.

“This is just one of the first steps to show that the capabilities are out,” said Rosenthal, noting that the squid has more than 25,000 genes to which this technique can be applied. “This paper is actually opening a new species for biological inquiry.”

About three years ago, scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory launched an initiative to develop a cephalopod that was “genetically tractable”, meaning its genes could be manipulated, Rosenthal said. He said that cephalopods offer “really cool genetic possibilities” in part because they have the largest brain of all invertebrates and have the ability to sieve themselves and massively retrieve their genetic information.

Rosenthal and his colleagues obtained their results by “knocking out” a gene responsible for pigmentation. “Knocking out” genes allow researchers to test what individual genes do, while “knocking” can add genes that make it easier to study neural activity or other processes.

Researchers are hoping to transfer the new knock out technique to a smaller cephalopod species, as Doruthiis mayi is not a good candidate to raise in a laboratory partly due to its size.

Research on Dorythritis Meli found in waters near Matthews, Massachusetts has made major progress in neurobiology, and it gave the Nobel Prize to Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley in 1963.

Rosenthal said he hopes to use this technique to advance his own research into how these squid and other cephaloproids edit their own mRNA, which may have biomedical applications like pain management therapy .

“Squid keeps a real secret in very precise and active RNA editing,” he said.

He said that this technique could also allow researchers to study how cephalopods developed large brains and complex behaviors that may have implications for artificial intelligence. Further study of animals may also have applications in development, medicine, robotics, and military technology.

Carrie Albertine, another member of the research team, told NPR, “It’s game-changing for me. I’m interested in understanding how these animals work from the molecular level.” “But, you know, I didn’t think it would be possible. And yet here we are.”

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA Today: Scientists genetically turned Squid into a ‘game-changing’ success for the first time

Video: Scientists genetically convert squid to ‘game-changing’ (USA Today)


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