Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Gene Editing for Conservation Needs In-Built Protection

By Australian Science Media Centre

Researchers have been considering using gene drives to rid New Zealand of invasive pests, but have they adequately estimated the issues and addressed indigenous rights?

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Gene drive technology in any implementation is powerful and risky, and thus a precautionary approach to all stages of its development and release is critical. New Zealand already has the most advanced risk management systems in the world for bio­security and the release of new organisms, including genetically modified ones. Gene editing is only an extension of existing genetic modification which, once established in the wild, usually becomes irreversible.

Esvelt and Gemmell (see Browse, p.8) raise a number of pertinent points for once a basic gene drive is established in an ecosystem. However, in discussing the risk associated with hypothetical ecological release of a basic gene drive technology, they overlook a number of critical ecological filters. The ecology of the invasive species and its environment are a wrapper for the entire process. Once a basic gene drive is established in a population it could be hard to undo.

However, for a gene drive to establish in the wild might actually be very difficult, let alone more than once. Laboratory animals must actually be bred in sufficient numbers with the gene edit to release in to the environment such that they mate with the resident population and the gene itself establishes. This is what is always overlooked with the application of this technology, and the authors here make the same overestimation – that...

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