Scientists create weird mutant red-eyed wasps

The red-eyed mutant Jewel wasp on the right was created in the lab using CRISPR technology. (UC Riverside)
The red-eyed mutant Jewel wasp on the right was created in the lab using CRISPR technology. (UC Riverside)

Jewel wasps have been mutated to have red eyes, as part of scientific tests of new gene-editing technology at the University of California, Riverside.

Scientists used CRISPR gene-slicing technology to colour the wasps' normally black eyes, to test whether the method would work on the wasps.

"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," lead researcher Professor Omar Akbari said.

"Big beautiful red eyes are something you won't miss."

The CRISPR technology involves finding, cutting and mutating specific pieces of DNA. This was "pretty daunting" with the wasps, Professor Akbari said.

"You have to use a very very fine needle and a microscope and individually inject hundreds to thousands of embryos."

Jewel wasps eggs are about the size of a quarter of a grain of rice, and they develop in an egg sac about the size of a small bean. It's the first time the CRISPR technology has been used on an organism so small.

The red eye mutation will now be passed on to the offspring of the wasps, and the researchers will do further studies of the jewel wasp's biology and reproductive habits.

They're interested in researching how some male jewel wasp genes can kill female embryos, meaning that only males are reproduced.

Professor Akbari also hopes their research will eventually help them to control wasps and other insects that destroy crops or spread diseases like malaria.

The study was published in journal Scientific Reports.

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