To achieve nearly perfect hexagonal scales, first gene-edited snakes employ enigmatic “Turing patterns.”

The world’s first genetically modified snakes were created by scientists using CRISPR editing, providing new insight into how the reptiles develop their patterned scales. This is the first time that genetically modified snakes have been created. The CRISPR-modified reptiles are shedding new light on the process by which Pantherophis guttatus (corn snake) create their intricately patterned scales.

According to a new study that was published on Wednesday (June 14) in the journal Sciences Advances, snake scales are the result of placodes—small, thickened structures on the skin that develop at the embryonic level—much like feathers on birds or hairs on mammals.

However, in contrast to the placodes of most other species, including mice, which develop at random, the placodes of a snake develop in a highly organized manner, laying out the position of each scale. The researchers added that, rather, the spatial organization of these placodes is based on a natural pattern that was first explained by mathematician Alan Turing.

These “near-perfect hexagonal pattern[s]]” on the dorsal scales of the snakes, which are found on their backs and flanks, but not on the ventral scales, which form as a single row on the animals’ underbellies, were the focus of research by Geneva scientists.

The researchers discovered that the ventral scales of an embryo develop first and align with the position of somites, which are cells that make up the blocks that make up the vertebrae, ribs, muscles, and skin dermis. When the ventral scales are laid out, two isolated “waves” of placodes create, going toward one another.

A statement said that the lateral meeting of the waves made the neat hexagonal patterns on a snake’s skin.

Related: “To confirm our work, we used computer simulations and received similar results,” lead author Athanasia Tzika, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Genetics and Evolution at the University of Geneva, told Live Science. “By modifying a single gene, we changed the scales on chicken feet to feathers.” This is surprising considering that the pathway is necessary for the proper growth of skin appendages in mammals, birds, and reptiles.”

Tzika gave as an illustration of a reptile that never developed scales lizards with a mutated EDA gene, which had previously been studied in the laboratory of her university.

As a result, the world’s first genetically modified snakes were created by researchers. Tzika and her group were able to successfully create “mutant” snakes that lacked dorsal-lateral (hexagonal) scales but still had ventral scales by utilizing CRISPR-Cas9, which edits genes by severing the DNA and allowing the natural DNA repair process to take care of itself.

She stated that this demonstrated that the scales occur “without a functional canonical EDA pathway” and are not “self-organizing.”

Tzika stated that the scientists created four corn snakes in total, all of which are two years old and “are doing well.”

“The animals we created are identical to the snakes that are found in nature; Tzika stated, “We were able to reproduce the same phenotype.”

“To see if the mutation will transmit to the next generation,” she stated, “to see if the mutation will transmit to the next generation” on the genetically modified snakes after they reach sexual maturity in two years.