"If we can perform genetic crosses in a dish, what big discovery can we make?"
HybridMiX started with a simple question. "What if we can cross mice in a petri dish?"
This question started an exploration into the mind-boggling world of possibilities in biotechnology. It turns out, if we can breed mice in a dish, we can ask all kinds of exciting questions with medical and evolutionary significance.
In HybridMiX, we decide to push the boundary of what is possible with mouse genetics, by focusing on how species diverge.
Hybrids: an fascinating evolutionary dead-end
Hybrids between animals are usually evolutionary dead-ends. Nonetheless, hybrids are fascinating, not least because they often show surprising features from both parents. Aristotle discussed mules extensively in his treatises. Darwin devoted whole chapters to discuss hybrids. Haldane formulated his famous rule in describing patterns of hybrid sterility. Our interest in such phenomenon has not abated since. This question, fundamental to evolutionary biology, also has great implications in fertility and health.
Fascinating biology aside, hybrids are usually limited, especially in mammals. This is because they tend to be sterile, if not inviable. For geneticists, this is a missed opportunity, because without breeding over many generations, no genetics can be done.
Solution: hybrid stem cells
In our new ERC-funded projected, we will try to break this question wide-open. Basically we will rely on stem cell, transgenic and tissue engineering techniques to generate mice tissues in a petri dish, as if they have been generated through years and generations of laborious crosses. This will allow us to ask (and answer!) some of the most fundamental question in evolutionary biology:
- What happens to the tight-knit gene networks when species drift apart?
- Do the same genes cause hybrid sterility at different stages of speciation/divergence?
Our approach not only answers big questions. It also greatly reduces the use of live animals in research.
We are excited about this project. Stay tuned to see what we discover in the next few years!