When future historians look back for decisions that cried out, “What could possibly go wrong?” yet humans made them anyway, the year 2020 will likely be at or near the top of the list. While there are many decisions that could put it there, one last week is certainly a strong candidate. In fact, any decision where one of the words is “CRISPR” should just be put automatically on the list. This one involves the use of CRISPR gene editing for the first time ever on a squid. Can you say (make that yell) “Kraken alert!”?
"This is a critical first step toward the ability to knock out – and knock in – genes in cephalopods to address a host of biological questions."
Marine biologist Joshua Rosenthal from the Marine Biological Laboratory at the University of Chicago co-led the editing and co-authored the results published in Current Biology. In the press release, he outlines the purpose of the gene editing on a longfin inshore squid (Doryteuthis pealeii) – to test CRISPR on a higher-level creature often used in neurobiological studies in order to perfect the technique for making similar changes in human nerve systems. The longfin inshore squid is small in comparison to humans, but cephalopods are desirable test animals because they have the largest brain of all invertebrates, a distributed nervous system capable of instantaneous camouflage and sophisticated behaviors and a unique body plan. Oh, and one more thing:
“The ability to extensively recode their own genetic information within messenger RNA, along with other distinctive features.”
That’s right -- they can recode their own genetic information … which means they can potentially recode the edited genes. Rosenthal and his colleagues have discovered extensive recoding of mRNA in the nervous system of Doryteuthis and other cephalopods. This has potential biomedical applications, such as in pain management therapy.
What could possibly go wrong?
The legendary giant squid was said to attack ships in the North Atlantic, the same waters where the longfin inshore squid is found, as is the giant squid (Architeuthis dux). If it indeed existed, it’s possible that Kraken was a cephalopod, which scientists admit is a big-brained, sophisticated, gene recoding creature – making Kraken a huge-brained one. What if a CRISPRed longfin inshore squid escaped (we’re finding this is no longer just a co0hnsoiracy theory) and somehow passed edited genes on to a giant squid? Does the myth suddenly become the monster?
"This is something that honestly, if you asked me five years ago if we'd be able to do, I would have just giggled and said, 'I dream of it'. But, you know, I didn't think it would be possible. And yet here we are."
Marine biologist and study co-author Carrie Albertin said this about the CRISPR editing of the longfin inshore squid. Will future historians say this as they look back at CRISPR? Or will they say:
“Why didn’t anyone ask what could possibly go wrong?”