Wānaka Sun       

Can gene editing eradicate pests before 2050?

Posted at 6:00am Thursday 10 Oct, 2019 | By Francesca Maria Nespolo journalist@thewanakasun.co.nz

It is fairly complicated to make animal lovers and hunters get along. Perhaps, the unique point of the junction can be pest eradication. New Zealand has set an ambitious goal to eradicate mammalian predators from our shores by 2050. The key targets are possums, rats and stoats; species that cause enormous damage to our flora and fauna and in some cases are an economic burden to our productive sectors. 

But could gene editing eradicate pests forever? To answer this question, Professor Neil J. Gemmell from the University of Otago will give a speech entitled ‘Genetic tools for pest eradication: looking back to go forward'. As Professor Gemmel said “Pest control with current technologies over significant spatial scales is possible, but it is time-consuming and expensive. Thus, if we want to reach a goal of a pest-free New Zealand by 2050 we need to come up with smart ways to control our pest problem — new gene technologies are one possible solution to our pest problem.” In this talk, he will explore some of the genetic solutions currently being considered, above all gene drives. Even more, he will examine opportunities and challenges associated with these technologies, the lessons we can apply from past efforts to control pest species, and some possible points of focus for future research. The idea of gene drives has been around for about 20 years. However, in the last few years, it has catapulted into reality with the discovery of a new gene-editing system CRISPR/Cas9 than can be used to drive itself and a particular trait through populations with startling speed. So far, ‘gene drives' have been developed in yeast, fruit flies, mosquitos and recently mice. These show promises, but there are numerous social and legal ramifications that need to be addressed before such technology will be deployable for the control of any pest species. Optimistically, long before 2050.  

The conference will take place on Friday October 11 at 6pm, at the Presbyterian Community Centre, 91 Tenby Street. A contribution of $5 will be required.

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