First Gene Drive in Mammals Could Aid Vast New Zealand Eradication Plan

Scientists working in coördination with a U.S. conservation group say they’ve established an evolution-warping technology called a “gene drive” in mammals for the first time and could use it to stamp out invasive rodents ravaging seabirds on islands.

Gene-drive technology, so far demonstrated only in insects and yeast, is a powerful way of biasing the inheritance of DNA such that wild animals can be genetically altered as they reproduce, including to cause a population crash.

Now two scientific teams—one in Australia and one in Texas—say they’ve genetically engineered the house mouse, Mus musculus, so that its genome also harbors genetic surprises that could be unleashed on wild populations. The modified rodents were born in the last two months and the results are still preliminary.

The effort to establish gene drives in mammals is being coördinated by Island Conservation, a hard-charging conservation group based in Santa Cruz, California, whose specialty is bombing small islands with rat poison in order to save endangered seabirds. Its motto is “preventing extinctions.”

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