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Gizmorama - April 24, 2017

Good Morning,

Here's a story from the WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT file. Apparently, scientists has engineer red-eyed mutant wasps. Cue the Syfy Original Movie!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists engineer red-eyed mutant wasps --*

If you see red-eyed jewel wasps buzzing about Southern California, don't be alarmed, they're just mutant wasps created by lab scientists at the University of California, Riverside.

The wasps are the result of a proof of concept study. Scientists wanted to test CRISPR gene-slicing technology on a small insect, and they succeeded. Until now, CRISPR technology had never been used on such a small organism.

CRISPR technology allows researchers to directly inject an organism with genetic material, like RNA or proteins, designed to seek out and rewrite specific portions of DNA coding. Researchers at UCR used the technology to disrupt genes controlling eye pigmentation.

"We wanted to target a gene that would be obvious, and we knew from previous studies that if the gene for eye pigmentation was knocked out, they would have red eyes, so this seemed like a good target for gene disruption," Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology, said in a news release. "Big beautiful red eyes are something you won't miss."

Using the gene slicing technology on such a small organism required steady hands. The jewel wasps lay their eggs inside blowfly pupa. Scientists had to peel back the pupa layers to expose the egg sac. The egg sac is roughly the size of a small bean, while each individual egg is approximately a quarter the size of a single 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," Akbari said.

Their success -- detailed in the journal Scientific Reports -- means red-eyed wasps are here to stay. The sliced genes are heritable, meaning subsequent generations will likely develop red eyes.

In future experiments, Akbari and his colleagues want to manipulate other parts of the wasp's genetic coding. Scientists are keen to understand how male jewel wasps "can somehow kill the female embryos and create only males," Akbari said.

Researchers hope that ultimately, an growing knowledge of insects like wasps and mosquitos will help them better control species that destroy crops and spread disease.

*-- Skin mucus of South Indian frog kills flu virus --*

Scientists have discovered a flu-fighting compound in the skin mucus secreted by a colorful South Indian frog species.

Emory University School of Medicine coaxed the skin slime from frogs by shocking Hydrophylax bahuvistara specimens with a small jolt of electricity. In the lab, researchers isolated molecules from the secretion and tested them on human blood cells infected with various flu virus strains.

One of the molecules, urumin, successfully killed several viral strains, as well as a number of harmful microbes. The research -- detailed in the journal Immunity -- showed the molecule attacks hemagglutinin, the glycoprotein that binds the virus to cells. Other antiviral medications attack different parts of the virus.

Unlike other peptides with antiviral properties, urumin is not toxic to human cells and concentrates its destructive forces on pathogens.

It's likely the urumin has capabilities beyond fighting the flu, as frogs aren't vulnerable to the flu.

"The frogs secrete this peptide almost certainly to combat some pathogen in [their] niche," lead researcher Joshy Jacob told Gizmodo. "The flu virus most likely shares a common motif with whatever the peptide is targeted to."

In lab tests, scientists found a small dose of urumin, delivered through the nose, protected unvaccinated mice against several flu strains.

Researchers are now working on developing urumin into a medicine that remains stable in the human body. Scientists are also searching for frog-derived peptides that could be used to combat other pathogens like the Zika virus.


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