Why we need to talk about ‘gene-drive’ grey squirrels

L. Clarke,  DevonLive,  2022.

Would the best way of controlling the UK’s rampant grey squirrel population be to spread genetic changes throughout the species? A new research film, to be shown next month at Exeter Phoenix, sees scientists, conservation and wildlife experts debate the use of emergent ‘gene-drive’ technology in grey squirrels. The film Should we create gene drive grey squirrels?, written and produced by Sarah Hartley, a Professor in Technology Governance at the University of Exeter Business School, and independent film-maker, Tom Law, documents the introduction into the UK of grey squirrels at the turn of the 20 th Century and how their burgeoning population has contributed to the demise of the UK’s native red squirrel, which is now mainly found in Scotland. It presents the reasons why some people argue it would be better to limit the grey squirrel population, including the fact that they carry and spread squirrel pox, a virus fatal to red squirrels which can devastate entire populations. Forestry experts also explain the detrimental effects of grey squirrels to biodiversity and the economic damage they cause in forests and woodland areas by stripping the bark of trees in search of the sugary sap-like ‘phloem’ substance inside. This, they say, causes irreparable damage to the UK’s native trees such as oaks, beeches and silver birches, and makes planting those trees a ‘waste of money’.

More related to this: