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CRISPR-Cas9 Makes Studying Exotic Organisms Much Easier

The CRISPR-Cas9 system has been making major waves in the field of gene editing for some time now. Now, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have shown that not only is this gene-editing tool transforming the field of basic science research, but it can have a great impact on genetic studies in more exotic organisms like slime mold and octopi.

In a study published in Current Biology, scientists took advantage of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to elucidate the function of six Hox genes, known to be involved in controlling the body plan in all animals, in the growth and development of amphipod crustaceans, Parhyale hawaiensis, better known as “beach hoppers” or “sand fleas”. The varying expression of these Hox genes is thought to generate the limb diversity seen in crustaceans. By quickly and efficiently knocking out the six genes, one by one, the UC Berkeley scientists were able to switch body parts, transforming, for example, a claw into a leg.

By determining this, the scientists have not only shown that the CRISPR-Cas9 system can be used in non-mainstream organisms just as easily as in model systems , but also that, evolutionarily, altering the expression of Hox genes can determine which limb/segment ends up where. Research with the CRISPR-Cas9 system in other exotic organisms, including sea anemone and butterflies, is also ongoing.

Source: University of California, Berkeley

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