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Recent Discovery “Shocks” Scientists

The electric eel is known for its ability to generate electric organ discharge(EOD) that reaches voltages of up to 860 volts. A research group led by Professor Eiichi Hondo and Assistant Professor Atsuo Iida from Nagoya University in Japan discovered that electric eels may have the ability to genetically alter nearby animals.


Electroporation is a gene transfer technique which involves using an electric field in order to introduce DNA into multicellular organisms. This process is typically known for being done in a laboratory using machines to provide electricity, not in a natural environment such as a river. 


The team hypothesized that electric eels can transfer genes in the same manner that genes are transferred using high voltages in genetic engineering. 


In order to test the hypothesis, the group used zebrafish larvae and placed them in water containing DNA encoding the green fluorescent protein (GFP)  while exposing them to EOD from the electric eel. 


Afterwards, some embryos showed a mosaic expression of green fluorescence, while the control group without electrical stimulation showed little distinct fluorescence. This is an indicator that discharge from electric eels has the potential to function as an electroporator for the DNA transfer into eukaryotic cells.


The experiments were conducted using live animals who were given anesthesia. This is in line with the institutional guidelines in place by the Ethics Review Board for Animal Experiments at Nagoya University.


In 2013, it was hypothesized that lightning bolts have the potential to be a natural source that can transfer genes as well. 


Further research should be done in order to gain a complete understanding of how it affects life in a natural environment; which is crucial to the field of science as it helps researchers develop a better understanding of electroporation.

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