Deep orange gene editing triggers temperature-sensitive lethal phenotypes in Ceratitis capitata

Sollazzo, G., Nikolouli, K., Gouvi, G. et al.,  BMC Biotechnology,  24. 2024.

The Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata, is a significant agricultural pest managed through area-wide integrated pest management (AW-IPM) including a sterile insect technique (SIT) component. Male-only releases increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of SIT programs, which can be achieved through the development of genetic sexing strains (GSS). The most successful GSS developed to date is the C. capitata VIENNA 8 GSS, constructed using classical genetic approaches and an irradiation-induced translocation with two selectable markers: the white pupae (wp) and temperature-sensitive lethal (tsl) genes. However, currently used methods for selecting suitable markers and inducing translocations are stochastic and non-specific, resulting in a laborious and time-consuming process. Recent efforts have focused on identifying the gene(s) and the causal mutation(s) for suitable phenotypes, such as wp and tsl, which could be used as selectable markers for developing a generic approach for constructing GSS. The wp gene was recently identified, and efforts have been initiated to identify the tsl gene. This study investigates Ceratitis capitata deep orange (Ccdor) as a tsl candidate gene and its potential to induce tsl phenotypes.

An integrated approach based on cytogenetics, genomics, bioinformatics, and gene editing was used to characterize the Ccdor. Its location was confirmed on the right arm of chromosome 5 in the putative tsl genomic region. Knock-out of Ccdor using CRISPR/Cas9-NHEJ and targeting the fourth exon resulted in lethality at mid- and late-pupal stage, while the successful application of CRISPR HDR introducing a point mutation on the sixth exon resulted in the establishment of the desired strain and two additional strains (dor 12del and dor 51dup), all of them expressing tsl phenotypes and presenting no (or minimal) fitness cost when reared at 25 °C. One of the strains exhibited complete lethality when embryos were exposed at 36 °C. Gene editing of the deep orange gene in Ceratitis capitata resulted in the establishment of temperature-sensitive lethal mutant strains. The induced mutations did not significantly affect the rearing efficiency of the strains. As deep orange is a highly conserved gene, these data suggest that it can be considered a target for the development of tsl mutations which could potentially be used to develop novel genetic sexing strains in insect pests and disease vectors.

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