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CRISPR creates first genetically modified marsupials

fter years of using the gene-editing technique CRISPR to genetically modify everything from vegetables to lab rodents to humans, researchers have used it to edit one of their hardest targets yet: marsupials, the MIT Technology Review reports. For the past 25 years, researchers have struggled to genetically modify these mammals—which are born prematurely and finish development in their mothers’ pouches or bellies—because they have thick shells around their eggs and lack a functional placenta.

But researchers at Japan’s Riken Institute have finally cracked the code, successfully editing the genes for pigment production in gray short-tailed opossums. Their efforts resulted in a litter of albino opossums (above), researchers reported yesterday in Current Biology. The ability to modify marsupial genes may help biologists better understand the animals and use them to study immune responses, reproductive and developmental traits, and common diseases like melanoma.

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