Beginning on August 17, 2015 25 scientists from laboratories of 9 countries were immersed in the theory and practice of insect genetic technologies and left at the end of the week exhausted but well trained and with a solid foundation of knowledge that will serve them well as they move their research forward and plan their use of various technologies.
The ‘theory’ component of the course was covered in 9 lectures given by 6 different instructors (each ending with a quiz!) and 3 special symposium presentations that included 2 National Academy members and Howard Hughes Investigators.
Lecture topics included Embryology/Development, Gene Editing, Transposons, Site Specific Recombination, Binary Expression Systems, RNAi, Promoters, Gene Assembly Technologies and Risks/Regulations.
Dr. Chris Potter from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine lectured on binary expression systems while Dr. Brinda Dass from the Food and Drug Administration lectured on regulating genetically engineered animals including mosquitoes. The remaining lectures were given by course organizers Koen Venken, Max Scott, Urs Schmidt-Ott and Zach Adelman.
The practical aspects of insect genetic technology were divided into two main themes – ‘delivery of technologies’ and ‘gene editing’.
Because there is essentially only one way to deliver any insect genetic technology to insect germ lines, students spent a great deal of time learning the ins and outs of embryo microinjection. On the first day of the course students were shown in great detail how one would perform embryo injections with the mosquito Aedes aegypti – an insect of ‘intermediate’ difficulty that presents a number of common challenges seen with other species. This instruction was provided by the professional staff of the Insect Transformation Facility (ITF) at the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research at the University of Maryland College Park, where the course was conducted.
Rob Harrell and Channa Aluvihara in the ITF were the stars of the Course. Their broad and deep experience combined with that of the instructors gave the students an experience that would be hard to match anywhere else.
With a solid day of demonstration and explanation the students worked the rest of the week in small teams and tried to replicate what they had been shown.
While initial instruction focused on Aedes aegypti the students were able to work with a total of seven species of insects in all: Diptera: Aedes aegypti, Anopheles stephensi, Drosophila melanogaster, Clogmia albipunctata, Coleoptera: Tribolium castaneum, Hymenoptera: Cerapachys biroi, Homoptera: Bemisia tabaci
The gene editing modules focused on guide RNA design using a couple of web-based programs coupled with ‘homework’ where students had to work independently on a design problem. Students empirically tested an engineered endonuclease using a single strand annealing assay (SSA) and genotyped some gene-edited mosquitoes using Surveyor assays.
Long days and lots of interactions resulted in countless exchanges of ideas, sharing of tips and tricks and the development of professional relationships that can be used as leverage by participants against scientific and technical challenges they encounter in the future.
This Course will be offered again in the Summer of 2016 at a date that has yet to be decided.