The world’s first gene-edited squid and why it’s historic

Chris Burns - Aug 11, 2020, 11:41 am CDT
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The world’s first gene-edited squid and why it’s historic

Researchers have revealed this week that they’ve been successful in gene-editing a squid for the first time in human history. Cephalopods are used to study Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s due to their significantly large brains. Using the DNA editing tool CRISPR, a genetically altered squid will potentially jump-start major advances in the study of neurodegenterative diseases of many sorts.

The manipulation of cephalopod genes hasn’t been particularly realistic in the past. Studying cephalopod innards has been possible, but because of the physical makeup of the creatures, the editing of their embryos hasn’t really… worked out so well.

Research published this week outlined the world’s first gene knockout in a cephalopod. CRISPR-Cas9 proved “highly efficient” in gene editing squid embryos.

The test here was whether these researchers would be able to affect the squid’s pigmentation in growth. As shown in the images above, pigmentation was successfully knocked out with the gene edits done in this study. Where otherwise there would be black dots in this squid, the creature remains transparent.

NOTE: Human cells have been created with this same sort of transparency – weird!

Per the study discussion: “Our methods for gene knockout should be readily adopted by other research groups. Loliginid squid are available worldwide, and our methods do not require specialized equipment. When the D. pealeii genome is released, CRISPR sgRNAs can be designed to avoid off-target edits.”

Gene knockouts similar to this have been useful research tools for the study of butterflies, amphipods, zebrafish, and other creatures. The success these researchers have found in gene editing squid may be the most important use of the CRISPR tool yet – not least of all because of the potential of the method for future squid studies.

In the paper Cephalopod Brains: An Overview of Current Knowledge to Facilitate Comparison With Vertebrates, the similarities between cephalopod and vertebrate brains are shown. In the paper Toward an MRI-Based Mesoscale Connectome of the Squid Brain, researchers performed high-resolution dMRI scans to explore the “higherto unsuspected pathways” in the brain of the squid, suggesting these squid are far more intelligent than previously proven (or suspected).

“I think you’re going to see a huge jump in the use of these [gene-edited] organisms by neurobiologists,” said Joshua Rosenthal, PhD, speaking with OneZero this week. Dr. Rosenthal was a key architect of the first successfully genetially engineered squid and a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

The most important outcome of this whole ground-swelling of interest in squid studies is the near future of study in brain health. Squid studies (scanning, gene editing, and so forth) have major potential in bettering of our understanding of neurodegenterative diseases in not only squid, but humans, too.

For more information on this subject, take a peek at the research paper Highly Efficient Knockout of a Squid Pigmentation Gene. This paper was published with code DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.099 on July 30, 2020. Research was authored by Karen Crawford, Juan F. Diaz Quiroz, Kristen M. Koenig, Namrata Ahuja, Caroline B. Albertin, and Joshua J.C. Rosenthal.


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