New Zealand stunned the world in 2016 announcing a goal to eradicate mammalian predators 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.
Pest control with current technologies over significant spatial scales is time-consuming and expensive, so we need to come up with much smarter (read cheaper) ways to control our pest problem. One promising new approach to pest eradication are “gene drives” that promote the inheritance of a particular gene to increase its frequency in a population. That distortion in and of itself is relatively harmless, but if you can couple that distortion in inheritance to a genetic trait that effects an individual’s survival or ability to reproduce you have a tool that could be used for population regulation or even eradication.
Such technology poses multiple challenges both from a technological and social standpoint (see Gemmell and Tompkins, 2017; Dearden et al. 2017; Esvelt and Gemmell, 2017), which are now the focus of new work in our lab funded through the Biological Heritage National Science.
Kevin Esvelt (MIT)
Dan Tompkins (Predator Free 2050)
James Russell (Auckland)