Scientists create a simple and cheaper method for insect genome editing

Scientists have developed a simple and cheaper genome-editing method that can be used on many insects, raising hopes of applying the technology to produce more edible insects.

A group of researchers from Kyoto University and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology developed the new method of injecting genome-editing tools into adult insects to make them give birth to genetically modified insects.

However, it also creates the risk of abuse of the method and release of genetically modified insects into the wild.

Takaaki Daimon, a professor at Kyoto University and a member of the research team, acknowledged that the new method may pose such risks because it is so simple that even “members of an undergraduate biology club in the secondary can use it”.

He urged scientists to “follow the rules and experiment in a closed setting to prevent (genetically modified) insects from escaping.”

Genome editing is used in the development of gene therapy for humans and the production of meatier red sea bream, highly nutritious tomatoes and other food products.

As part of existing insect genome editing methods, scientists inject genome editing tools, such as CRISPR/Cas9, which includes a ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule that serves as a guide, and the Cas9 enzyme, which acts like scissors, in eggs immediately after they are fertilized.

But such methods require expensive equipment and technical skills and cannot be injected into the eggs of cockroaches and other insects, which are covered with a hard case.

When researchers used the new method to inject a genome-editing tool that creates white eyes into an area near the ovary of female German cockroaches about to lay eggs, around 20% of their hatchling had white eyes.

The editing tool was likely introduced into cells that turn into eggs, which then modified the targeted gene, according to the team.

The researchers said the new method can be used on most insects, as well as shrimp and crabs.

The new method is simpler, requires less expensive equipment and is more convenient than conventional methods because it allows scientists to use existing genome editing tools offered specifically for them.

The team expects the new method to be used in developing countries and applied to creating more edible insects.

The results were published on May 17 in the online version of the American scientific journal Cell Reports Methods: (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crmeth.2022.100215).

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