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Faculty Spotlight: Jason Rasgon and Christina Grozinger

Posted: May 3, 2018

This is the 3rd of eleven short news articles written by students, during the professional development class. This year we had the students interview their advisor(s), in an effort to help them better understand the larger context of their projects.

The “Buzz” about genome editing
By Allyson Ray

Mosquitoes and honey bees seem like an unlikely duo, but the two worlds have joined forces in the form of Drs. Jason Rasgon and Christina Grozinger of Penn State University. The two are teaming up in an exciting effort to develop new procedures in gene manipulation, overcoming difficult issues that plague current methods and uncovering the mysteries of unanswered scientific questions.

To modify the genome of animals like mosquitos or bees, one must inject embryos with a complicated mixture of molecular machinery that cut and alter DNA, a slow and ineffective procedure with low rates of survival. The process can be further complicated by the biology of the organism. With honey bees, for example, researchers must also attempt to trick the embryo into developing into a honey bee queen, the sole reproductive female of a hive, rather than a sterile worker.

Rasgon and Grozinger aim to bypass these obstacles by fusing destination signals to the gene editing machinery, which direct the products to the embryos inside the body of the mother, similar to a shipping label attached to a box traveling across the country or the globe. By simplifying current methods, these two researchers are hoping to push the boundaries of the kinds of questions that now can be answered in the laboratory.

“People often ask me what I want to do with this tool” states Rasgon, “I turn it around, and ask ‘What do you want to do with this?’” Grozinger also emphasizes its value as a method for fundamental research. The technique will allow all scientists to “join the gene editing club,” as answering interesting, critical questions in biology will be now easier than ever. With the current interest in genome editing technologies, this transformative method is likely to be welcomed by research groups all around the world.

Rasgon and Grozinger themselves work on very different problems, ranging from mosquito vector biology for Rasgon, and honey bee health and behavior for Grozinger. The project team also includes many other researchers from diverse study systems, including ticks and whiteflies, and is supported by funding from the NSF-EDGE program (Grant # 1645331). The ultimate goal is that this technology will be applied in any species and available for any academic researcher. Soon, all will be buzzing about the questions we can answer with this new method.