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
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?Gene drive technology considered in the fight to save native animals from feral cats
RN Breakfast By Stephanie Smail
Posted about 6 hours ago
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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
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.