New insect species made via genetic engineering

L. Leffer,  SCIENCELINE,  2020.

A biotech fast-forward button for evolution is on the horizon. Researchers say they have used a novel genetic engineering method to create several new species of fruit fly in the lab for the first time — an achievement which might help put a future without malaria and other insect-borne diseases within reach. The approach, called synthetic speciation, could prove useful in creating safer pest-control technologies, says Maciej Maselko, a postdoctoral fellow studying synthetic biology at Macquarie University. In one far-off scenario, according to Maselko, synthetic speciation might even be applied to generate designer organisms that could pollinate plants or even detect landmines. Maselko and his team published their findings September 8 in Nature Communications. “Speciation has occurred billions of times on the planet, but hasn’t been engineerable [before],” says Michael Smanski, a molecular biologist at the University of Minnesota and member of the research team. Maselko, Smanski and their colleagues have previously used a similar method to engineer “species like” differences in yeast in 2018, but their more recent results are the first time the concept has been proven possible in a multicellular animal. This method could produce untold numbers of new animal varieties within months rather than millennia, Smanski says.

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