Identifying knowledge gaps for gene drive research to control invasive animal species: The next CRISPR step

Moro, DB, Margaret; Kennedy, Malcolm; Campbell, Susan; Tizard, Mark,  Global Ecology and Conservation,  13:e00363. 2018.

Invasive animals have been linked to the extinctions of native wildlife, and to significant agricultural financial losses or impacts. Current approaches to control invasive species require ongoing resources and management over large geographic scales, and often result in the short-term suppression of populations. New and innovative approaches are warranted. Recently, the RNA guided gene drive system based on CRISPR/Cas9 is being proposed as a potential gene editing tool that could be used by wildlife managers as a nonlethal addition or alternative to help reduce pest animal populations. While regulatory control and social acceptance are crucial issues that must be addressed, there is an opportunity now to identify the knowledge and research gaps that exist for some important invasive species. Here we systematically determine the knowledge gaps for pest species for which gene drives could potentially be applied. We apply a conceptual ecological risk framework within the gene drive context within an Australian environment to identify key requirements for undertaking work on seven exemplar invasive species in Australia. This framework allows an evaluation of the potential research on an invasive species of interest and within a gene drive and risk context. We consider the currently available biological, genetic and ecological information for the house mouse, European red fox, feral cat, European rabbit, cane toad, black rat and European starling to evaluate knowledge gaps and identify candidate species for future research. We discuss these findings in the context of future thematic areas of research worth pursuing in preparation for a more formal assessment of the use of gene drives as a novel strategy for the control of these and other invasive species.