Science 2 min read

Scientists Gene-Hack Lizards To Make Them Albino

One of the four albino lizards, alongside a non-modified example | Image Credit: University of Georgia

One of the four albino lizards, alongside a non-modified example | Image Credit: University of Georgia

For the first time, scientists have gene-hacked lizards into a pale pink color using CRISPR technology.

Geneticists have always shied away from gene-editing reptiles in the past due to potential complications.

Ideally, the CRISPR gene-editing tool involves injecting the gene-editing solution into a freshly fertilized egg. This causes a DNA mutation, which then becomes reproduced in the subsequent cells.

However, the process is not so simple in Reptiles.

Female reptiles can store sperm in their oviducts for a very long time. As a result,  geneticists usually find it difficult to determine the exact moment of fertilization.

Also, a reptile’s fertilized egg has a fragile shell and lacks internal air space. That means the process of introducing new genes into the embryo will almost always damage it.

So, how did the geneticist overcome this challenge?

How to Turn Lizards Pink Without Painting Them

Ph.D. student Ashley Rasys, with one of the lizards | Image Credit: University of Georgia

Rather than follow the usual procedure of injecting fertilized eggs, the geneticist tried something new.

Lead scientist Douglas Menke and his colleagues injected the CRISPR protein into unfertilized eggs which were still in the lizards’ ovaries. Then, they merely waited for nature to take its course.

Twenty-one female lizards and 146 injections later, the scientists ended up with four mutant albino lizards, according to New Atlas. 

The research led to an unintended discovery.

Although they only injected unfertilized eggs in the ovaries, the mutation appeared in gene copies from both the mother and father. In other words, the CRISPR protein stuck around long enough to mutate the paternal gene after fertilization had occurred.

The scientists were surprised.

In a statement to Atlas, Menke said;

“It enabled us to see the functional requirements of the gene without having to breed mutated animals to produce offspring who inherit the mutated gene from both parents. It’s a big time-saver.”

According to the researchers, the resilience of CRISPR proteins could be lead to new treatments to improve eyesight.

Read More: Mad Science: David Ishee And His Open Source DIY Gene Hacking

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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