Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fruit Flies Genetically Modified to be Resistant to Deadly Toxin

Overall this article exposes the fact that Whiteman and his University of California, Berkeley, colleagues genetic modified fruit flies to essentially have the same genetic mutations that monarch butterflies have. This was done using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing and ultimately made  three CRISPR edits in a single gene. These three edits were identical to the genetic mutations that allow monarch butterflies to consume milkweed and sequester its poison. These toxins are then stored and used to deter predators because they have essentially made themselves poisonous prey. This particular poison causes anything that eats them to puke and in large amounts can it can cause humans to puke as well. This was the first time anyone has recreated in a multicellular organism a set of evolutionary mutations that lead to an entirely new adaptation to the environment. As a result, these flies that have the triple genetic mutation have been studied to be 1,000 times less sensitive to milkweed toxin than a typical wild fruit fly would be. This entire study was solely to determine the mutation needed to allow the consumption of milkweed and surprisingly it was only three single-nucleotide substitutions in a single gene. Overall, the poisons in these plants interfere with the sodium potassium pump. The Sodium Potassium pump moves sodium ions out and potassium ions into the cells within our body. This pump is responsible for creating an ion imbalance that the cell uses to transmit signals across. Digitoxin, which is the main toxin in milkweed, blocks the pump and prevents the cell from creating that sodium potassium gradient. Ultimately restricting signally and can be very deadly. In fact, so toxic that these positions are referred to as cardiac glycosides and are capable of killing an elephant. All in all, I found this really interesting that a single gene that had only 3 substituted nucleotides can make these fruit flies and butterflies completely resistant to such a deadly toxin. Furthermore, if CRISPR is capable of designing such direct mutations I’m curious to see how long it takes to eliminate specific mutations from the entire population and completely modify our future generations. I personally feel as if CRISPR’s technology is obviously beneficial; however, might have too big of a potential to be abused in the sense of stereotyping and potentially leading to a generation that chooses their offspring from a catalogue in the near future as technology grows. It amazes me how much technology can do nowadays and it amazes me how little changes can have such a drastic outcome. 

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