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The fine line between playing God and saving species

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New Zealand conservation workers are keen on gene-editing to eradicate pests but would rather avoid “playing God” with native species, a University of Otago study suggests.

In an article published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers from the Departments of Anatomy and Zoology outline the views of 148 Department of Conservation (DOC) staff over the use of both gene-editing to save endangered animal species and “de-extinction” to resurrect those already lost.

Dr Helen Taylor, who co-led the study, is concerned that conservation practitioners are being left out of discussions on synthetic biology techniques like gene-editing.

She says the survey was a chance to assess how conservation workers feel about these issues, and the results were “striking”.

New Zealand is arguably an ideal testing ground for de-extinction and gene-editing, given the number of species which have become extinct in the past 150 years, its invasive mammal predators and the number of native species with very low genetic diversity.

But Dr Taylor says there is clearly strong opposition from some conservation practitioners to the idea of resurrecting extinct species when doing that might divert funding away from existing conservation projects.

Of those surveyed, 62 per cent considered de-extinction would be impossible to achieve in their lifetimes,...

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