Magazine article Geographical

RADICAL ERADICATION: As Part of New Zealand's Plan to Cull Millions of Predators, Scientists Are Consulting the Public about Controversial Gene Technology

Magazine article Geographical

RADICAL ERADICATION: As Part of New Zealand's Plan to Cull Millions of Predators, Scientists Are Consulting the Public about Controversial Gene Technology

Article excerpt

Last year, the government of New Zealand announced its commitment to eradicate millions of possums, stoats and rodents in a bid to improve the survival chances of its declining native species - particularly its birds. The project predicted to take decades, will involve a 'scaling up' of eradications already carried out on a number of its uninhabited islands, where toxins were scattered by helicopter. A key difference, however, is that the national scheme might involve an as-yet uninvented genetic modification technique called 'gene drive' technology.

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The technology might, for example, involve editing rodents' genes so they can only produce male offspring, before releasing them to mate in the wild. The 'drive' element means the daughterless trait would be more likely to be inherited than unmodified genes, causing eliminations in relatively few generations. It's likely the project would learn from larger gene drive efforts - such as US trials on malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

For such a plan to happen however, the population of New Zealand needs to be on board. 'We are surveying the attitudes of thousands of New Zealanders towards such novel pest control techniques,' says James Russell, an ecologist at the University of Auckland and research coordinator of the country's 'Predator Free' plan. …

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