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Scientific American Covers Gene Drive as a Potential Conservation Tool

Scientific American delves into the need for advances in transformative conservation technology and the hope GBIRd may provide for native island species.

Floreana Island, like many islands around the world, was once a thriving ecosystem filled with species found nowhere else on Earth. But the introduction of invasive predators has now altered the ecosystem and decimated native species. Island Conservation and our partners have spent the past five years working with the Floreana community to find the best way to restore the rare native species. Invasive rodents are one of the most pressing threats to island wildlife and have driven the endemic Floreana Mockingbird and other endemic wildlife off the island, and in some cases to extinction.

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An Endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper on Acteon and Gambier Islands, French Polynesia. Credit: Marie-Helene Burle/Island Conservation

A similar scene unfolds on islands around the world after the introduction of invasive rodents, but advances in gene editing technology could be a game-changing tool for island restoration and native species protection.

Researchers are constantly working to find the most effective and humane way to remove invasive predators from islands. Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents is a partnership of diverse experts from seven world-renowned universities, government, and not-for-profit organizations advancing gene drive research. This partnership is looking into the possibility of using CRISPR, a DNA editing tool to alter the inheritance of sex among rodents. For example, if a population of rats is introduced with altered genes that allow them to only produce male offspring, the gene would move through the population and eventually create a reproductively void rodent population. A growing understanding of the benefits of genetic editing could lead to a breakthrough that one day could save island species from extinction around the world.

Featured Photo: A Great Frigatebird on Palmyra Atoll. Credit: Cielo Figuerola/Island Conservation
Read more in Scientific American

About Island Conservation

Island Conservation prevents extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. To date, we have successfully restored 63 islands worldwide, benefiting 1173 populations of 468 species and subspecies. Working together with local communities, government management agencies, and conservation organizations, we select islands that have the greatest potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species.

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