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Scientists study the genetics of invasive mussels seeking ways to turn off the genes that allow them to spread and survive

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  • Scientists study the genetics of invasive mussels seeking ways to turn off the genes that allow them to spread and survive

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/...fe4-story.html
    Scientists study the genetics of invasive mussels seeking ways to turn off the genes that allow them to spread and survive
    By Morgan Greene
    Chicago Tribune |
    Jul 31, 2021 at 1:57 PM

    ...

    The search for solutions involves weighing the effect a treatment is likely to have on the mussels with the effect it may have on everything else in an ecosystem. Chemicals have been proven to kill mussels but can also be toxic to native mussels — many of which are already threatened or endangered. Some control methods may work for clearing mussels from a fixed structure but struggle to stand up against the unpredictability of open water. Or else end up being prohibitively expensive.

    Now scientists are studying methods of genetic control — an approach that could spare other organisms from becoming collateral damage and potentially solve the scale problem.

    “It could provide a way to do what we can’t do now, which is to treat an infested body of water,” said Scott Ballantyne, a biology professor at University of Wisconsin River Falls who is part of the team that started researching RNA interference and zebra mussels this year. “So that’s the hope.”

    RNA can act as a translator, helping convert the information stored in a cell’s DNA into proteins essential to the body’s function. RNAi — RNA interference — can essentially block that process and “turn off” a gene.

    The revelatory discovery happened by accident after a number of oddities, including an effort to make an especially vibrant petunia. Instead, scientists ended up with white petals — and an enigma.

    Turns out, the scientists set off a naturally occurring regulatory mechanism using double-stranded RNA. Normally, RNA in a cell is single-stranded, but many viral genomes are double-stranded. The interference may have developed in response to these foreign appearances.

    ...

    Genetic control strategies could also combine and supplement more traditional control approaches. Scientists are targeting genes they predict are involved in stress responses — including tolerating heat, or toxins such as copper sulfate.

    Researchers could potentially engineer a food source like bacteria, or algae, which would introduce the double-stranded RNA to the mussels, Gohl said. The material could even be distributed to the mussels similarly to Zequanox engineering, which involved a frame and tarp system to pump the molluscicide underwater. For lab tests, they could directly inject the mussels.

    While RNAi research is underway on zebra mussels, other scientists are considering a different approach with quagga mussels.

    CRISPR is another genetic technology that is most commonly used to directly edit DNA, and can mean a permanent change passed on through generations, unlike the more indirect RNAi...
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