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Gene Drive: A Tool for Conservation?

YaleEnvironment360 covers the unknowns and opportunities presented by genetic engineering in the field of conservation.

Gene drive opens up new opportunities in many different fields. In a recent article in YaleEnvironment360, award-winning writer Richard Conniff delves into a potential application of gene drive for conservation. Gene drive could help conservationists prevent extinctions of seabirds and island species.

Invasive rodents have significant negative impacts on island biodiversity. Projects to remove invasive rodents from islands are very complex and challenging. Current tools available for conservation intervention restrict professionals to a suite of islands home to less than 15% of the Critically Endangered and Endangered island species that need protection.

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The Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove has recently benefited from removal of invasive species from its native range in French Polynesia. Credit: Island Conservation

The Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents (GBIRd) partnership is collaboratively developing and evaluating gene-drive technology for rodents. The partnership is engaged in research to find out if gene drives could influence a mouse population to self-eliminate by becoming 100% male or 100% female. Island Conservation Director of Communications Heath Packard said:

We are committed to a precautionary step-wise approach, with plenty of off-ramps, if it turns out to be too risky or not ethical.

Research is under way, though implementation would not be expected to take place for about ten years. Dr. Kent Redford, conservation consultant and research scientist said:

[With…changes taking place all around them,] Conservationists absolutely must engage with the synthetic biology community, and if we don’t do so it will be at our peril.

Featured photo: Antipodes Island landscape. Credit: Jason Zito/Island Conservation
Source: YaleEnvironment360

About Island Conservation

Island Conservation prevents extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. To date, we have successfully restored 60 islands worldwide, benefiting 1090 populations of 399 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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