from the CRISPR-critters dept.
Two teams of scientists have used CRISPR to create genetically modified ants for the first time. Another team used an insect brain hormone to alter ant behavior:
The gene-editing technology called CRISPR has revolutionized the way that the function of genes is studied. So far, CRISPR has been widely used to precisely modify single-celled organisms and, more importantly, specific types of cells within more complex organisms. Now, two independent teams of investigators are reporting that CRISPR has been used to manipulate ant eggs—leading to germline changes that occur in every cell of the adult animals throughout the entire ant colony. The papers appear August 10 in Cell.
"These studies are proof of principle that you can do genetics in ants," says Daniel Kronauer, an assistant professor at The Rockefeller University and senior author of one of the studies. "If you're interested in studying social behaviors and their genetic basis, ants are a good system. Now, we can knock out any gene that we think will influence social behavior and see its effects."
Because they live in colonies that function like superorganisms, ants are also a valuable model for studying complex biological systems. But ant colonies have been difficult to grow and study in the lab because of the complexity of their life cycles.
The teams found a way to work around that, using two different species of ants. The Rockefeller team employed a species called clonal raider ants (Ooceraea biroi), which lacks queens in their colonies. Instead, single unfertilized eggs develop as clones, creating large numbers of ants that are genetically identical through parthogenesis. "This means that by using CRISPR to modify single eggs, we can quickly grow up colonies containing the gene mutation we want to study," Kronauer says.
orco Mutagenesis Causes Loss of Antennal Lobe Glomeruli and Impaired Social Behavior in Ants (open, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.07.001) (DX)
An engineered orco mutation produces aberrant social behavior and defective neural development in ants (open, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.06.051) (DX)
The neuropeptide corazonin controls social behavior and caste identity in ants (open, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.07.014) (DX)