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Meet Albino, The World’s First Gene-Edited Lizard

Scientists have been altering the genes of mice, pigs, goats, chickens and butterflies for quite some time. But even as Crispr, a transformative gene-editing tool, made seemingly impossible genetic alterations possible, reptiles had remained untouched. That changed with the birth of a nearly transparent Anolis lizard, the first gene-edited reptile, according to the draft of a study made public this week.

Ashley Rasys, a graduate student at the University of Georgia who was involved in the lizard’s creation, arrived shortly after he broke through his thick shell. “I was floored,” she said. “We weren’t really expecting to generate an albino lizard at first,” she added.

What is CRISPR

CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. These sequences are derived from DNA fragments from viruses that have previously infected the prokaryote and are used to detect and destroy DNA from similar viruses during subsequent infections. Hence these sequences play a key role in the antiviral defence system of prokaryotes.

Cas9 (or "CRISPR-associated protein 9") is an enzyme that uses CRISPR sequences as a guide to recognize and cleave specific strands of DNA that are complementary to the CRISPR sequence. Cas9 enzymes together with CRISPR sequences form the basis of a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 that can be used to edit genes within organisms. This editing process has a wide variety of applications including basic biological research, development of biotechnology products, and treatment of diseases.

“We can now create two to four mutant lizards from just a day’s work,” said Douglas Menke, the director of the genetics department at the University of Georgia and another author of the study.

The scientists could have altered a variety of genes, but they focused on the mutation that codes for albinism in large part because that tweak is visual. Producing an albino lizard would show their gene editing was successful.
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