Co-PIs Peter Atkinson and Linda Walling have received funding from DARPA to develop gene editing technology in whitefly for the benefit of agriculture. This 2 year grant will build on work from initially obtained seed money from the UCR Senate and RED. Drs. Atkinson and Walling’s project also benefited from the assistance of several very talented UCR undergraduate students, including Simran Sandhu, Katie Buker, Halondra Zamora, and Jonathan Calero.
The team’s attached photo is of a CRISPR-edited male whitefly with white eyes on the right and a wild type male on the left. Mutations at the white locus were subsequently confirmed and these conformed to what one expects of NHEJ-mediated repair of dsDNA breaks at the gRNA target site. This is the first demonstration of CRISPR technology in whitefly and, as far as the investigators know, the first example of any genetic modification in it by any technology. The whitefly eggs are very small, less than 0.4 mm long, have thick eggshells and remain attached to the leaf. PIs Atkinson and Walling have found a way to microinject the eggs while keeping the detached leaf alive on defined media. By comparison, other insect eggs like Drosophila and mosquito are about 1mm long and are freestanding and so can be attached to tape for microinjection.
Congratulations to the Atkinson and Walling team!