Researchers at UC Riverside's Akbari lab have brought a new strain of red-eyed mutant wasps into the world.
The wasps were created to prove that CRISPR gene-slicing technology can be used successfully on the tiny parasitic jewel wasps, giving scientists a new way to study some of the wasp's interesting biology, such as how males can convert all their progeny into males by using selfish genetic elements.
No one knows how that selfish genetic element in some male wasps "can somehow kill the female embryos and create only males," said Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology who led the research team. "To understand that, we need to pursue their PSR (paternal sex ratio) chromosomes, perhaps by mutating regions of the PSR chromosome to determine which genes are essential for its functionality."
Enter the relatively new CRISPR technology, which allows scientists to inject components like RNA and proteins into an organism with instructions to find, cut and mutate a specific piece of DNA. Then researchers can see how disrupting that DNA affects the organism.
The end goal, in Akbari's case, is to better understand the biology of wasps and other insects, so they can find a way to control insects that destroy crops or spread diseases like malaria.
But the first step is figuring out how to use the CRISPR technology in such a small organism, something no one had ever done before, in large part because the work is pretty daunting, Akbari said. This is because jewel wasps lay their tiny eggs inside a blowfly pupa, which had to be peeled back to expose the teensy eggs.
How tiny? Imagine the blowfly egg sac as about the size of a small bean, Akbari said, and Jewel wasp eggs "about a quarter the size of a grain of rice....You're essentially pulling a small egg out of a larger egg, injecting it with components to mutate the DNA and then putting it back into the bigger egg to develop."