Scientists have genetically tweaked a daddy long legs into a daddy short legs.
‘Daddy long legs’ is most commonly associated with those notorious household crane flies, familiar to us in their flailing, gangly form, particularly around summertime. For any arachnophobes out there, they’re a frightening nuisance, striking fear with their unpredictable movements.
Honing in on the genome of Phalangium opilio, which technically isn’t a spider but is considered the most common of the 6,000-plus daddy long legs species, researchers led by Guilherme Gainett from the University of Wisconsin-Madison pulled off some never-before-seen genetic engineering.
By using RNA interference, they managed to ‘knock down’ a pair of genes associated with leg development in the daddy long legs embryos. As a result, their legs were about half the size and transformed into an appendage known as a pedipalp, used for handling food.
‘The genome of the daddy long legs holds great potential to clarify the complex history of arachnid genome evolution and body plan, as well as to reveal how daddy long legs make their unique long legs,’ Gainett told CNET.
It’s hoped the research will allow scientists to develop more tools for genetic engineering and learn more about the makeup of other creatures. It’s believed the spider genome duplicated sometime in the past, sparking a wide range of genes for their evolution, meaning there may be a link between complex genomes and greater organism variation.
‘Looking forward, we are interested in understanding how genes give rise to novel features of arachnids, such as spider fangs and scorpion pinchers, and also leveraging the genome to develop the first transgenic harvestmen,’ he added.
The results of the study were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal. ‘The effectiveness of single and double RNAi in this system makes P. opilio an opportune point of comparison for future investigations of arachnid body plan evolution,’ they wrote in the paper.
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