ACS and colleagues published a paper in this week's Nature on using genetic engineering to rescue species from extinction.
With 15–40% of species predicted to become effectively extinct by 2050, conservationists are carefully considering some drastic rescue remedies, such as moving animal populations to help them track hospitable habitats. In a Comment piece in this week’s Nature, Michael Thomas and colleagues consider the pros and cons of adding genetic engineering into the mix. With the vast attention that genetic engineering in agriculture receives, and the techniques used to transfer genetic material becoming ever more sophisticated, it is just a matter of time before conservationists apply the approach to safeguard biodiversity, say the authors. There are myriad practical challenges in finding appropriate target genes to move between populations of the same species, or even between different species, to avert extinction of a threatened population. Moreover, the effects of moving material to a different environmental and genetic context will be hard to predict. In cases where one or a few genes have a substantial impact on a trait of interest — for instance, by conferring resistance to a fungal disease — such genes might make excellent targets for transfer. But the authors caution that even the possibility of using genetic-engineering tools to rescue biodiversity, what they term facilitated adaptation, might encourage inaction with regard to climate change. For some species, however, genetic engineering “could turn out to be the only viable remedy.”
and interview with the lead author Micheal Thomas.