Targeting invasive pests with genetically tailored poison in New Zealand


Recently, New Zealand has been at the center of a heated debate over whether it is either feasible or ethical to use a cutting-edge genetic-engineering technique known as a gene drive to kill off the land-dwelling mammals that were brought to New Zealand by European settlers and that threaten its native birds.

[T]he high-tech solution is not always the most effective one. In the case of [the parrot species] Kaka, it was breeding them behind fences that rise high into the sky and deep below the ground to keep out pests like possums. Now, New Zealand is close to perfecting a new conservation strategy that merges 21st century science with an age-old pest control technique: genetically targeted poison.

Scientists mine the genome of a predator species for DNA sequences specific to only that animal. It’s similar to how pharmaceutical companies mine human DNA for clues to curing disease, only in this case, they’re hunting for a sort of Achilles’ heel that would kill the animal if tinkered with.

The idea is to then use that molecule to make a new toxin that would harm only the targeted animal when ingested. That means the toxin could be distributed more liberally and effectively, with (hopefully) no consequences to other animals in the same ecosystem.

Read full, original post: The Surprising Way New Zealand Could Soon Solve Its Predator Problem

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