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Gene Drives for Conservation

Gene drives could make cane toads non-toxic, enabling predators to consume the toads safely and reduce their numbers.

Gene drives could make cane toads non-toxic, enabling predators to consume the toads safely and reduce their numbers.

By Ella Kelly

Gene drives may provide a novel tool to counteract seemingly unstoppable threats to global biodiversity.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The global environment is changing so quickly that many species have been unable to cope. Australia’s biodiversity is being threatened by human-mediated impacts to the landscape, and as a result we now have almost 50 vertebrate species listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. Although some species have begun adapting, often these adaptations have not spread rapidly enough through populations to prevent declines.

In the face of such rapid and irreversible changes to the environment, conventional conservation methods are not always effective. Instead, conservationists are now looking towards new technology and innovative strategies to help combat what appear to be unstoppable threats. For instance, gene drives could be used to help accelerate adaptions to threats or spread favourable genes rapidly through threatened populations. Gene drives could potentially be used to help restore native biodiversity, particularly when alternative methods have been ineffective or too costly.

Invasive species, for example, are almost impossible to eradicate once they take hold. Feral animals are incredibly damaging to Australia’s native fauna, particularly as our ecosystem has been isolated for so long that it’s now ill-adapted to deal with novel threats. Current methods for control generally involve individual removal through techniques such as lethal baiting,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.