Before you wonder about the title, no, my project does not involve a study on the popular 1960’s dance (I just thought it was a fun title). The project I’m actually working on in the Wray lab is to use CRISPR/Cas9 to knockout particular genes in sea urchin embryos and observe their development. As of right now, I’m soon going to start trying to knockout endo16, a gene in sea urchins that necessary for the development of their gut (link).
The reason that I am first testing that particular gene is because its function is already known, so I should be able to easily identify if the knockout was successful. Once I’m able to get the results that are expected, I’ll be able to move on to working on genes whose functions are not yet known.
Interestingly enough, though sea urchins are considered to be great model organisms to study early development since their embryos are clear and easy to maintain, there are still many regions of the genome that have not been fully defined, as far as their function and interaction with other genes goes. However, understanding how genes within organisms produce changes at different points in development goes beyond looking at them as individuals, but through understanding them as pieces within a far more complex system, which is referred to as the genomic regulatory network (GRN) (link). This idea is what the sea urchin research in the Wray lab revolves around.
Essentially, by experimenting with individual genes and observing what developmental pathway they effect and when they effect it, those genes can be placed within the overall GRN. The interactions between that gene and other genes that regulate that pathway can be identified, creating a much richer understanding of how genomes operate. This, in conjunction with how these interactions are mediated by cis-reulatory systems, can provide us a greater understanding into how changes in development occur and how these drive evolution of species (link).
Though I haven’t gotten particularly far in my project so far as I’m still practicing the skills required to ensure the embryos are able to develop normally post micro-injection, I hope to get started on CRISPR/Cas9 by the end of this week or the beginning of next week. I’m quite excited to see what I might discover!