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Scientists have created the first genetically modified marsupial

Scientists have created the first genetically modified marsupial

Researchers from the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR) managed to create the first genetically modified marsupial. Their study, which appeared in the scientific journal Current Biology, will help decipher the genetic background of the unique features seen only in marsupials. Genetically modified animals, especially mice and rats, are extremely important tools for researching biological processes. For example, researchers often silence genes to find out what their normal functions are.

How scientists managed to get a genetically modified marsupial

Since marsupials have unique characteristics, their study requires the development of a representative animal model. To date, the best option is the opossum, which is thought to be the ancestor of all marsupials. In addition to being the first marsupial whose entire genome scientists have sequenced, the opossum is a good model animal because of its size and breeding characteristics. they are similar to those of mice and rats.

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Like other marsupials, opossums possess a variety of characteristics not found in other mammals. It develops without a functional placenta and puppies are born prematurely. Like humans, but unlike other non-marsupial mammals, he gets skin cancer simply from exposure to ultraviolet light. Also, unlike other mammals, newborn possum pups have spinal cord injuries they have the ability to naturally heal on their own.

Due to these unique characteristics, the study of marsupial biology is arousing increasing interest. However, scholars have found it difficult to analyze their genetics without established technology to genetically modify marsupials. Now, a research team led by Hiroshi Kiyonari of RIKEN BDR is taking advantage of new gene editing technology to make opossum research a quantum leap.

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Action must be taken on the coupling

Genome modification requires the systematic collection of fertilized eggs, as the solution for the modification itself is injected into them. Since possums have a long cycle of estrus and a strong sense of territoriality, it takes about a week for two specimens to mate even if they live together, which makes it difficult to proceed with the experiment in a systematic way. The research team administered a hormone used in mice and other laboratory animals to stimulate estrus in females, and managed to significantly reduce the time required for mating.

Researchers have transferred the fertilized egg into the uterus of a female of fertile possums, and they got puppies. This is the first case in which scientists have succeeded in applying embryo transfer technology in marsupials. To confirm the general methodology, the researchers targeted a gene responsible for the body’s production of pigments. When this gene is disturbed, it fails to produce pigment and the skin lacks color. Some of the pups born from this experiment were actually albinos, and the next generation inherited their genes. Therefore, it is the first case of genetically modified marsupial birth in the world.