Education & Science

Scientists Are Struggling to Keep Genetically-edited Animals Alive

Geneticists around the world are making sustained efforts to overcome the stage where they perform experiments on model-organisms such as some flies or zebrafish, focusing their efforts on designing bodies to be used in future studies.

Today’s genetic studies use model-organisms – non-human species on which experiments are carried out – hoping that they can provide an understanding of the functioning of other organisms. Some of the researchers want to overcome this step and, with the help of CRISPR gene-editing technology, try to produce new organisms for these studies. These organisms, whose genes are altered, have at this point a great disadvantage: they are neither viable nor reliable. More specifically, the genetic-modified animals that correspond to the needs of scientific studies cannot be kept alive for extended periods of time and have reproduction difficulties.

The use of current model-organisms comes from a practical reason: they have a very high capacity to adapt to the lab conditions. “The basic consideration when we use the model-organisms is linked to the fact that they are like pests: they do not have great impediments to adaptation and reproduction,” said Tessa Montague, a molecular microbiologist, for Nature Magazine.

The use of new organisms in studies requires that the researchers learn about their life cycles and reproductive behaviors. “If we accept the challenge to work with new species in order to study their unique characteristics, there is the possibility of not adapting to the conditions in the laboratory,” adds microbiologist Tessa Montague.

Scientists are optimistic about the prospect of designing new model-bodies for scientific research. Using CRISPR technology to edit the aphid eggs (plant lice) – some tiny insects with an accelerated reproductive cycle – researchers are closer to obtaining new model-organisms. “We are finally able to expand what we understand through the model-bodies.”

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