Gene drives and eliminating invasive pests without bloodshed

| | February 23, 2018

[Researcher Karl Campbell is] using a fiercely potent poison for the complete obliteration of rats on a 70-square-mile Galapagos island called Floreana. The island was once home to a chocolate-brown bird with a perky tail called the Floreana mockingbird, but the rats eat its eggs and chicks.

The rats’ destruction will be brought about by a carpet-­bombing of lethal pellets: Some 300 tons of poisoned cereal will be dumped from helicopters, enough to kill every rat on the island.

Campbell has begun pushing for research into a much more precise and effective tool—one you might not associate with nature-loving conservationists. Self-­perpetuating synthetic genetic machines called gene drives could someday alter not just one gene or one rat or even a population of rats but an entire species.

He’s not alone in his enthusiasm. Institutions from the US military’s research agency to the Gates Foundation to the government of New Zealand are looking to gene drives as possible solutions for big problems (malaria, Lyme disease, species extinction). But the methods also contain the threat of unleashing another problem: They could change species, populations, and ecosystems in unintended and unstoppable ways.

Campbell insists that he and [Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents] are committed to being careful and deliberate. Pretty much voicing [geneticist Kevin] Esvelt’s exact fear, he says, “If you screw it up the first time around, you might put it back 30 years.”

Read full, original post: Process of elimination

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