CRISPR for pest-free NZ

Developments around CRISPR have made it possible to tackle some interesting practical problems such as making NZ pest-free by using gene drive.

What is CRISPR? Watch the TED Talk below.

What is gene drive? An explanation of CRISPR and gene drive have been previously posted. It is a natural system used by bacteria to protect themselves against viruses and is now being used routinely in genetics as a tool in research.

Recently the Department of Conservation has set a target for New Zealand to become pest free by 2050. This includes mice, rats, stoats, rabbits and possums. This is very unlikely to be achieved using the conventional methods of poisons, diseases, traps, shooting or other such methods as pointed out by Professor John Knight in the article in the ODT 10/10/2016.

Gene drive is our best hope or worst fear? Part of the fear comes from the unknown.  What is required is a very extensive public education effort to explain to people what gene drive is, how CRISPR works and what are the ethical issues. For pest control the objective would be to produce only male offsprings and thereby control the population.

Being an island  nation, we are ideally situated to use this method — we have been bold with innovation before — here is our chance again.

For an update on this issue, see: daisy-chain-gene drive for pest free nz

5 thoughts on “CRISPR for pest-free NZ

    1. Rural Johnny

      Most people would be happy to see this happen? I doubt that many, let alone most, have any idea what gene drive technology is about, nor its ecological, ethical or moral implications.

      It is but a small series of steps to go from predator elimination to human disease elimination to human trait selection. If the financial incentives are sufficient, then this will happen in time.

      To me, those who promote this technology are not trustworthy when it comes to commercialising their discoveries. That will sound harsh to those with a vested interest so let me explain that I have two tests for trustworthiness.

      One is that the scientists (in this case), know what they are doing. There is little published about the unintended consequences of the genetic engineering that underpins the technology. Let's be clear, a natural process CRISPR is not - it is pure and simple, genetic engineering. And whenever genes are manipulated, consequences beyond the specific effect the scientists are looking for, may occur. Scientists have not the knowledge to predict those effects.

      Second, to be worthy of my trust, scientists need to be doing their work for the right reasons. Financial profits earned from patented products is not a right and proper reason. Human greed is still too strong to expect that shortcuts and incomplete analysis will not occur.

      So to be clear - my objections to the technology are centred on the commercialisation of discoveries. Using the tech as a science discovery tool is a worthy and now necessary activity. But when it comes to releasing the end products in to the wild, no way should this even be on the agenda until we are clear and confident about unintended consequences.

      1. anon

        I can appreciate your points of view and by-and-large agree with them. Gene drive is a new and untested technology and we need to proceed with caution and care. We need to put in place safeguards and protocols (there is intense debate about this overseas -- just Google it). Finally, gene drive for pest control would need to be field tested in some containment facility -- like a small offshore island.

        These are practical hurdles, but the biggest hurdle, in my opinion, is getting the public engaged in a good debate about the issues and have a better understanding of such a programme. That should start now -- don't leave it to the scientists.

        On your second point, I have worked as a scientist for more than 45 years and money has never been the motivating factor for me or for any of my colleagues. If you wanted to make money, there are far easier ways to do that than becoming a scientist.

        1. Rural Johnny

          Thank you for your considered response.

          I too am old enough to remember the time when research was conducted for the public good rather than for the private profits that tend to drive research funding today. If genome research were done today with that public good in mind, then I would have a lessened objection to it.

          I do not agree that the biggest hurdle is about public engagement to develop a better understanding of the issues.

          Before we can have engagement, we need to fully understand the science but more importantly, we need to have a well-considered ethical framework to apply the results of science's discoveries.

          The pace of GE research is outstripping our ability to consider ethics.

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