validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

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mr friendly guy
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validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by mr friendly guy » 2018-05-31 01:19am

For those who won't read the article, basically gene drive aims to modify the genes of pest AND ensure that their progeny carries the required genetic material. So for example imagine a mosquito which can't carry the malaria parasite, and all its progeny will have this trait, eventually displacing the unmodified mosquito. Cue dystopian sci fi work here.

Australia are considering using it to curb the feral cat problems. Keep in mind we have experience using biological weapons against pests, think of myxomytosis against rabbits before they adapted, and then we use the calici virus (although it escaped early).

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-31/g ... ts/9817124
Gene drive technology considered in the fight to save native animals from feral cats
RN Breakfast By Stephanie Smail
Posted about 6 hours ago

RELATED STORY: World's largest fence to save native animal populations from feral catsRELATED STORY: Budget 'calamity' to slash 60 jobs from division that watches over threatened speciesRELATED STORY: Sanctuary undertakes biggest feral cat eradication project in world
Feral cats kill thousands of native animals every minute — now a controversial plan to use gene drive technology as a weapon against them is being considered by the Federal Government.

Conservation groups want cats that only produce male offspring to be released into the wild as a way to save native mammals, such as bilbies and bettongs, that are under attack.

The CSIRO is investigating the technology, which the Federal Government said could be a "powerful tool" subject to careful study.

But scientists acknowledge there are risks, particularly if genetically modified cats made it to other countries and wiped out native cats there


Killing machines
Unlike other feral predators, cats live in every habitat in Australia, from the rainforest to the desert, the east coast to the west.

They are hard to see, hard to trap and hard to bait because they prefer their prey live.

Atticus Fleming, chief executive of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, said there were millions of feral cats across the country, and that has been taking a heavy toll on native wildlife.

"Basically, every minute, across Australia, feral cats are killing … 2,000 native animals a minute," he said.

He has been fuelling the push to develop so-called gene drive technology as a weapon against feral cats.

"We are watching species go extinct before our eyes," Mr Fleming said.

"We need to act now and we need to put feral cats at the top of the list of priorities."

Mr Fleming said while the large feral cat free zones were working to protect many native animals vulnerable to attack, there was no broader strategy.

He said gene drive technology offered the only glimmer of hope.

"[There are] 30 mammals extinct [in Australia] since European settlement. In the US since their European settlement it's one, so we're off the charts," he said.

How does it work?
The CSIRO agreed to work with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy on the idea, and their scientists have already begun work in the field.

The team genetically modified so-called "daughterless carp" so the fish only produced male offspring, but they were never released into the wild.

Andy Sheppard, research director at CSIRO Health and Biosecurity, said the method would not require the introduction of a vast number of genetically modified cats.

"[This] technology allows all offspring of any coupling between a gene construct and a wild-type animal to all have the gene construct," he said.

And this, he said, was what everybody is getting exciting about — whether or not the gene technology could be used to control a whole range of feral pests.

"The primary focus globally at the moment is whether or not it would be an acceptable technology to manage mosquitos to try and rid the world of diseases like malaria," Dr Sheppard said.

He said the technology would remove the need for baiting or trapping because the population would die out naturally — but he acknowledged there were risks.

So, what's the catch?
Dr Sheppard said the main risk was if the genetically modified animals somehow escaped into areas where cats were not a pest, it could endanger those cats which may be valued and might in fact be native.

"There's a lot of movement of animals around the world, either legally or illegally, which raises the potential risk of those GM animals being moved around," he said.

He said authorities would need to be sure before gene drive technology is rolled out.

"Once you've released your genetic construct into the field, under that scenario, it's very, very hard to stop it," he said.

"So, you would be making a decision that may be hard to withdraw."

Dr Sheppard said if it went ahead, it would be a world first.

He said work has not started, and would not without Federal Government approval.

If the decision was made to push forward, Dr Sheppard said the technology had huge potential for managing even the most elusive pests.

"Managing invasive species, once they've established and become widespread and are causing harm, has been a huge challenge for society," he said.

"Pretty much the only technology we've had available to us up to now has been classical biological control, as exemplified by the rabbit biological control program in Australia over the last 60 years."

He said for the first time they have a technology that could "potentially" eradicate some very harmful pests from the environment, such as rodents on islands where there is high biodiversity, without having to use poisons.

The cat always wins
Australia's feral cat population swings between about 1.5 million and 5.5 million, with more cats after heavy rain.

Native mammals do not stand a chance against that, said Sarah Legge from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Federal Government's National Environmental Science Program.

"On top of that, cats breed generally much more quickly than our native species, so they can out-breed their prey."

She said gene drive technology could finally bring feral cats under control.

"There are a heap of techniques available and that we use, but none of them are going to get rid of cats at the continental scale," she said.

"If it wasn't to get rid of cats altogether, it might be to reduce them to a point where they're not having such big impacts on native wildlife."

But Dr Legge said there was still a long way to go before the idea became a reality.

"I think we've got quite a long period in the lab before we get to the point of even thinking about letting it go outside of the lab," she said.

"In that time there needs to be a public conversation that hasn't even started yet as far as I'm aware, about the place of technology like that in our world and how comfortable we are with using it."

In a statement, Minister for Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg said gene editing technologies were not a panacea, but could be a powerful tool in fighting extinction, subject to further careful study.

He said his department and others had been in discussions with the CSIRO about the technology.
Are we ready to use gene drive technology to control pests? Do we need more work before we try? Should we even use this tech ever?
Discuss.
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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-05-31 01:40pm

The primary concern here is that we are talking about a species which has a domesticated counterpart, and is thus vulnerable to any genetic manipulation that may happen. Say they release a number of feral cats that carry a gene that will induce infertility in future generations. How do you prevent that from affecting domesticated cats? Not everybody keeps their cats in their house.

Expand that further; there are a number of wild felines in the rest of the world such as bobcats, lynxes, servals, and so forth. Is this gene only going to affect Felis domestica (I think that's the term) or will it have the potential to affect these other species, many of which are capable (somewhat) of crossing with the domestic cat?

A worst case scenario here might be the extermination of the cat species throughout the world within a few generations. Nobody would particularly care if this happened to mosquitoes; nobody domesticates mosquitoes. But cats? Cats have a place in society as pets and are the subject of considerable affection, not to mention a legion of memes.

So, yeah, I think I would have to draw the line at genetic meddling, unless it's something highly specific like 'will induce fatal allergy to specific food which can be put in baits'. That might be a reasonably safe way to avoid contaminating the domesticated version of the species; put up big loud notifications along the lines of 'Genetic Therapy being used to Kill Feral Cats, DO NOT FEED any outdoor cats THIS FOOD if you are attached to them' or whatever.
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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2018-05-31 07:13pm

Vox.com has a very good story on it as well. It's a bit long, so I don't want to post the whole thing here - it's focused more on the possibility of wiping out the handful of mosquito species (there are ~3500 mosquito species in total) that can carry human diseases (especially malaria), or on making them immune to the malaria parasite.
Are we ready to use gene drive technology to control pests? Do we need more work before we try? Should we even use this tech ever?
Discuss.
I think we should use it, although carefully. Better to try stuff first that changes the population rather than wiping them out, like the aforementioned mosquito example I cited above.
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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Civil War Man » 2018-06-01 11:37am

Using that kind of stuff to wipe out populations can get into really sketchy territory. You've got the stuff Elheru talked about with changes potentially spreading unintentionally to domesticated animals instead of sticking to just feral, or jumping to related species. There's also the problem that eradicating certain species, even with animals that are considered pests, can have major negative effects on local ecosystems. Wiping out mosquitoes, for instance, could remove a major food sources for a lot of insectivore species like fish or frogs, which then can cascade out to those species' predators if there's a population decline among the insectivores, and so on.

An argument could be made that it could also be used for good, if it's used to control the population of an invasive species that is already causing an imbalance among the local ecosystem. Genetic modification that doesn't wipe out the population, like the example of modifying mosquitoes so they no longer carry certain diseases, is probably also in less of an ethical grey area. It would still be a good idea to be very careful about doing that kind of stuff, though, when there's the possibility of other species being affected by the changes.

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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-06-01 05:43pm

Not just domestic cats would be at long term risk, a number of small wildcat species around the world, most of them already endangered in one way or another, could also be affected. Anyway this kind of gene splicing remains highly unreliable at the least so we have a lot of time to think about the implications.
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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Alyrium Denryle » 2018-06-02 09:25pm

For mosquitoes, I wouldn't want to use Gene Drive to kill them, just make them incompetent disease vectors, precisely because they comprise a lot of aquatic biomass and without them a trophic collapse would ensue.

However, for feral cats... fuck it. Protect native cats in other countries by being very precise with how you do your genetic modification so that your genetic construct doesn't function in other felines and either renders any hybrid offspring sterile or kills them outright. If you can't guarantee that, don't do it. Worth trying out though because fuuuuuck feral cats.

But bluntly, I *really* don't give a fuck about the reproductive prospects of people's inside/outside cats. Housecats are great. In the fucking house.
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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Zixinus » 2018-06-03 12:44pm

Could an immunization vaccine be made for pets, so only wild cats suffer?
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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Civil War Man » 2018-06-04 09:48am

Zixinus wrote:
2018-06-03 12:44pm
Could an immunization vaccine be made for pets, so only wild cats suffer?
Considering that we are talking about gene alterations here, I don't think that would really work. Even if there was a theoretical vaccine that could work that way, then you run into a problem as soon as someone gets a cat, gives them the vaccine but doesn't get them neutered, then the cat gets out and has sex with a feral cat, potentially introducing the immunity into the feral population if it results in kittens that carry the genes of the immune parent.

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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-06-04 11:15pm

A gene editing vaccine is entirely plausible in theoretical ways, mainly by using an edited virus, it's just bound to be plagued by it's own risks, and colossal problems with reliability. We've got a lot of lab vaccines right now that are never used on humans because of those two factors. Literally we have a vaccine for tooth decay that probably would work on humans but we don't use it because the risk of some runaway infection being a side effect is considered overwhelming. They use it on cows all the time.

Keep in mind lots of forms of cancer are being proven to be spread by viruses, and that's basically the same thing as a gene editing vaccine, just in a very negative way. This is a very real thing.

I agree though on a theoretical basis the non neutered cat is a big risk, though I would point out that's also something we could actually test for. The gene mutation might or might not be passed onto the kittens. If the probability is low enough then it's not a risk to the strategy. If it's high, then we don't do it.
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Re: validity of using gene drive tech to control pests

Post by Zixinus » 2018-06-13 02:24pm

Civil War Man wrote:
2018-06-04 09:48am
Zixinus wrote:
2018-06-03 12:44pm
Could an immunization vaccine be made for pets, so only wild cats suffer?
Considering that we are talking about gene alterations here, I don't think that would really work. Even if there was a theoretical vaccine that could work that way, then you run into a problem as soon as someone gets a cat, gives them the vaccine but doesn't get them neutered, then the cat gets out and has sex with a feral cat, potentially introducing the immunity into the feral population if it results in kittens that carry the genes of the immune parent.
This could be easily solved by tying the immunization to neutering. Which creates a problem for cat breeders but perhaps not one that is unsolvable.

Also, what if conventional medicines could also cure the cat from said disease?
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