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In The News
   
 
 

 

In The News
 

 
October 2 - Genetically-engineered 'superflies' which eat poisonous plants and make predators throw them up if they're eaten are developed in laboratory

Article: Cloning And Genetic Engineering
 

A 'superfly' resistant to toxic plants has been created in a lab by scientists who have made a major advance in the field of gene editing.

In nature, the fruit fly will die if it eats milkweed, a sticky sap-filled plant, and is eaten by hungry frogs and birds. But scientists manage to edit the DNA of the flies to make them able to stomach the once-poisonous plant, which has the added benefit of making predators vomit if they try to eat them.  Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, gave the flies' maggots the properties of monarch butterflies, which feed of milkweed.

Their effort is thought to be the first time an animal has been engineered to survive in a completely different environment, with a different diet and predators.  

The team led by Professor Noah Whiteman achieved their feat using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing essentially cutting and pasting sections of DNA. They made three CRISPR edits in a single gene - modifications identical to the genetic mutations that allow the monarch butterflies s to feast on milkweed and harvest its poison. 

Flies with the triple genetic mutation proved to be 1,000 times less sensitive to milkweed toxin than the wild fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Professor Whiteman said: 'All we did was change three sites, and we made these superflies. 'But to me, the most amazing thing is that we were able to test evolutionary hypotheses in a way that has never been possible outside of cell lines. 'It would have been difficult to discover this without having the ability to create mutations with CRISPR.'

However the monarch's resistance to milkweed comes at a cost, as the butterfly takes longer to recover from injuries and sickness. Professor Whiteman said: 'This shows there is a cost to mutations, in terms of recovery of the nervous system and probably other things we don't know about. 'But the benefit of being able to escape a predator is so high ... if it's death or toxins, toxins will win, even if there is a cost.'


 

 

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