New CRISPR method makes gene editing in insects a piece of cake

Insects have complex anatomical features that have made the gene editing process of many insect species such as cockroaches difficult for scientists. But a study recently published in the journal Mobile press offers a promising solution to this problem.

Concept image of CRISPR in cockroaches. Image Credits: Shirai et al./Cell Reports Methods

A team of researchers from Japan’s Kyoto University has developed a technique called direct-parental (DIPA) CRISPR. According to their research, this CRISPR method: (the already famous “genetic scissors” can be used for gene editing in more than 90% of insect species. Such a method could help scientists around the world to overcome the various limitations and complications they face every time they are trying to alter an insect genome.

About the study, senior author of the study and professor of agriculture at Kyoto University Takaaki Daimon said:

“In a sense, insect researchers have been relieved of the annoyance of egg injections. We can now edit the genomes of insects more freely and at will. In principle, this method should work for more than 90% of insect species.”

Why bother editing insects?

A report from the Smithsonian Institution shows that: there are 900,000 insect species (some other reports suggest the number could be as high as 1.5 million) and in terms of population they are the largest group on Earth. It is believed that the total number of insects at any given time is 10 quintillions19† Insects are closely related to agriculture, diseases and various ecosystem services, such as decomposition, pollination and pest control, which directly affect humans. Simply put, they shape the nature we see around us.

Plus, we lead a endless number of commercial benefits of insects in the form of medicines, textile products, edibles, etc. Genome editing practices in insects allow scientists to experiment with their genetic makeup and gain more information about their impact on nature and humanity, but until now it has been a very difficult processing.

First, current methods of gene modification are very expensive because they require high-quality installation and equipment. Then they can only in service for a limited number from insect species such as mosquitoes and butterflies, as they require mutations to be introduced in early embryonic stages. Because many insects (such as cockroaches) have complex reproductive systems and hard early embryo shells, injecting desired material into their embryo cells either becomes impossible or requires special tools and skills.

Therefore, different approaches to gene editing are often required in the case of different insect species, depending on their anatomical and reproductive characteristics.

“These problems with conventional methods have plagued researchers who want to perform genome editing on a wide variety of insect species,” Daimon added.

The benefits of direct-parental CRISPR in insects

DIPA or direct parental CRISPR is a clustered regularly spaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 method† It is a highly efficient and less time-consuming gene editing technique that uses a piece of guided RNA (gRNA) and Cas9 enzyme. The gRNA detects the genomic part of DNA that scientists want to modify in an organism and de Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA strands containing the target genome.

Image Credits: Virvoreanu-Laurentiu/Pixabay

When the DNA is damaged, the body cells of the organism initiate a repair mechanism and finally the original strand is replaced by the desired modified DNA. Professor Daimon and his colleagues from Kyoto University conducted an experiment on adult female cockroaches using the DIPA CRISPR-Ca9 method. Instead of inserting the desired genetic material in the early embryo stage, they changed the genes in the female cockroaches by injecting Cas9 ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) into their body segment that contains developing eggs.

After making changes to the cockroach’s genomes, the researchers found that the percentage of successful mutation was about 22%. When they used the same technique on red flower beetles, the yield increased to 50%. Interestingly, cockroaches and red flower beetles are not closely related, suggesting that the successful implementation of DIPA-CRISPR hints could be used for gene editing in different insect species.

Another advantage of the DIPA CRISPR technique is that it does not require expensive equipment and can be easily performed with a gRNA piece and the Cas9 enzyme using a simple experimental set-up. However, the technique is not yet fully developed and more research is needed before it can be applied for gene modification in all insect species.

“By improving the DIPA-CRISPR method and making it even more efficient and versatile, we could potentially enable genome editing in nearly all of the more than 1.5 million species of insects, opening a future where we can explore the amazing biological functions of insects,” said Daimon.

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