New gene-editing technology breakthroughs could help save native species from the blight of invaders—but at what risk?

Jason G. Goldman in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_2235 Sep. 21 21.03As Earth enters the Anthropocene epoch, its biodiversity wobbles on the precipice of disaster—and island species have been hit especially hard. About 80 percent of recorded extinctions have occurred on islands and 40 percent of the world's endangered and threatened species are island dwellers. Researchers say the leading cause of these extinctions is invasive rodents—rats and mice that stowed away on ships, then quickly populated islands where they have no natural predators and often find a buffet of things like eggs and baby wildlife. Whereas there are several ways to clear such invaders, the most effective has been rodenticides. But these poisons can neither be deployed effectively on islands with large human populations nor where residents disapprove of their use. And poisons do not discriminate, killing along with unwanted pests the native species they are meant to protect.

But now a controversial new strategy called gene drive offers a brutally efficient solution by introducing genetically modified organisms designed to spread a chosen trait—such as producing infertile offspring—throughout a wild population. Scientists, government officials and other interested parties debated the idea last week at the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.

More here.

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