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Engineering speciation events in insects may be used to control harmful pests

Date: 9.9.2020 

Species typically evolve over the course of eons, but researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a way to do it in less than a year.

Kredit: CC0 Public Domain.A team of scientists led by Mike Smanski, Ph.D., in the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) has generated speciation events in fruit flies so that engineered strains can reproduce normally with each other, but mating with unmodified flies results in non-viable offspring.

This research, published in Nature Communications, provides the foundations for scientists to be able to prevent genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from reproducing with wild organisms. Additionally, the research will allow scientists to develop new tools to control populations of disease carrying insects and invasive species in a highly targeted fashion.

Their approach, termed Engineered Genetic Incompatibility (EGI), begins by using CRISPR/Cas9 to introduce harmless mutations into regulatory regions of DNA next to those that encode proteins. Scientists then introduce a gene-activator that looks for the original DNA sequence.

When the engineered strain reproduces with a wild strain, the offspring will inherit a copy of the original sequence from their wild parent and a copy of the gene-activator from their engineered parent which causes over-activation of the wild gene copy, resulting in non-viable offspring. This method can also be used for transgene biocontainment.




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