Invasive Mice and Engineered Genes

W. M. Adams and K. H. Redford,  Yale University Press Blog,  2021.

On Gough Island, a steep speck of land deep in the South Atlantic, giant mice eat albatross chicks as they sit on their nests. They are house mice, accidental arrivals on the ships of long-dead sealers. But they have lost their secretive, timid, mousy ways. Over numerous generations, on an island without predators, they have become predators themselves. They have grown bigger, and fierce. The internet offers gruesome videos of Tristan albatross chicks being eaten alive in the night. The house mice of Gough Island are examples of one of the most serious and intractable drivers of biodiversity decline, invasive species. Not all species introduced by people outside their normal range become invasive, but invasive species are the most common threat to amphibians, reptiles, and mammals on the IUCN Red List, and have been a contributing cause in a quarter of plant extinctions and a third of animal extinctions in recent centuries. Traditional tools for addressing invasive species include traps, guns, fences, and particularly poisons. Though often effective, these often have undesired, and sometimes unexpected, knock-on effects on native species. Synthetic biology, the application of new genetic tools like CRISPR, is being explored as a source of new approaches to control with fewer side effects. The use of such methods in conservation blurs the distinction between what is natural and what is human-made.

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