That the kiwi bird still exists at all is something of a marvel. Its native New Zealand has no endemic land predators, and so the bird evolved to be flightless. Today, its nests on the forest floor are under constant attack by invasive species—opossums, rats, feral cats and the occasional misbehaving dog.
Despite conservation efforts, there are less than 70,000 kiwi left in all of New Zealand. The country loses about 20 kiwi birds a week.
But a radical new plan imagines modern technology as the key to saving New Zealander’s namesake kiwi, and other native birds threatened by invaders: scientists want to use a genetic engineering technique known as a gene drive to stamp out invasive rodents for good.
Gene drives allow scientists to override natural selection during reproduction, in theory allowing for the alteration of the genetic makeup of large populations of animals in a relatively short amount of time. A story today in the MIT Technology Review reports that scientific teams in Australia and Texas have successfully engineered mice to only birth male offspring, a bias meant to drive down mouse populations on an island. It’s the first time a gene drive has ever been used in a mammal. The scientists are working with a US conservation group, but the New Zealand government has suggested it’s open to using genetic engineering to deal with its own invasive problem.
This is not the first time that gene drive has been proposed as a means of conservation. In Hawaii, gene drive have been floated as a solution to the disease-carrying mosquitoes that threaten native bird populations. But there, the idea has been met with fierce resistance from environmentalists and native Hawaiians, and gained little traction.
Continue via… Source: Will a Radical Plan to Save New Zealand’s Birds With Genetic Engineering Work?