Meet the first genetically modified reptiles

They are albino lizards, as small as an index finger, that can help understand albinism.

The University of Georgia has given birth to the first reptiles genetically modified by humans. Newborns are albino lizards the size of an index finger and with red eyes. The intention of the scientists is that the small reptiles serve to investigate the visual defects associated to the albinism of the people. The reptiles chosen for the experiment are a Caribbean species known as chipojo lizards or brown anolis, according to El País.

The method they have used to edit the reptile genome has been the acronym CRISPR. These acronyms identify repetitions that are created in the DNA of the archaea (microorganisms similar to bacteria) and the bacteria in which viral attack information is stored. When a virus attacks again, the microbes already have the information in their DNA and recognize and attack directly thanks to molecular scissors.

There are many laboratories that use this method of cutting to edit the genome by cutting it and adding information to the DNA. One of the most popular cases was that of the two genetically modified embryos born in China last year, from the experiment two twin girls were born who are supposed to be immune to the AIDS virus.

Due to the reproductive biology of reptiles, the same method that was used in the case of twins cannot be used, in which the embryo of a few cells was modified in the laboratory and then implanted in the mother. In the case of reptiles, it is practically impossible to follow this process.

The method they have used has been to directly access the ovaries of the lizards and modify them by injecting the CRISPR scissors. The modification made by the scissors was to mutate the tyrosinase gene, something very similar to what happens in people with albinism.

People with certain types of albinism have poor visual acuity. The cause of this is the fovea, which does not exist or is underdeveloped. Here is the key to why species like mice have not been used: rodents have no fovea. This is the reason for the use of these small lizards.

Although reptiles’ foveas are very different from humans, they are confident that they can be used to study the cause and solution to the genetic alteration.

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