The path to solving each of these problems with genetic technology is clear. The right experts for each problem are already at work.
But their progress is slow because of:
- Fragmented funding…
- Over-specific projects instead of broad, sustained programs…
- Unclear paths for scaling up the solutions to global application…
- Understandable inertia among some conservation professionals…
- Understandable concern from some of the public…
To work on these larger-scale problems, along with continuing to push the scientific innovation, Revive & Restore is itself scaling up. We now have an experienced conservation professional on board (Tom Maloney). We are in the process of raising capital for a Catalyst Fund of $2 to $5 million in order to drive the needed scientific breakthroughs. We are expanding the range of workshops we organize to include a wide variety of innovative funders and funding models. With friends at the World Economic Forum we are exploring the potential creation of a “Genetic Intervention for Nature Alliance” so that the practice of conservation genomics can advance in a coherent way worldwide, supported by all the relevant institutions.
Would you help us help the crabs, reefs, bats, birds, ferrets, elephants, trees, and ecosystems?
Building the Genetic Rescue Toolkit
The 21st century conservation toolkit includes: whole genome sequencing, ancient DNA analysis, advanced reproductive technologies, genome editing and engineering, and gene drives.
Learn more about Genetic Rescue
Coral reefs are especially sensitive to environmental change. Reef-building corals live close to their upper thermal limits. As the global climate warms, elevated summer temperatures in oceans waters cause massive coral bleaching and mortality. Recent research indicates that some coral species can, at least to some extent, acclimatize to warming and acidifying ocean. That resilience can be engineered.
Living fossils that have been around for 450 million years, Horseshoe Crabs may not survive our era because they are captured at a massive scale and bled for the biomedical industry. Because their blue blood being ultra-sensitive to infectious bacteria, the extracted blood is used to detect contamination in all vaccines and injectable drugs. An effective synthetic substitute has been developed but not deployed, so the capture of crabs continues needlessly. Revive & Restore is working to overcome corporate and government inertia to the synthetic alternative.
North American bat populations are declining due to White-Nose Syndrome, caused by the fungal pathogen, Pseudogymnoascus destructans. WNS is one of the most lethal diseases currently affecting wildlife, killing at least 6 million North American bats. Since its detection in 2006, infected populations have undergone a decline of up to 90 to 100% in some hibernation sites, and several species are threatened with extinction within the next decade. We are now working with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to explore innovative solutions.
Because of climate change, disease-carrying mosquitoes are expanding their range to higher elevations each year, encroaching upon the last safe refuge of Hawaii’s native birds. These mosquitoes are bringing lethal avian malaria, pox, and other exotic diseases. Avian malaria and pox, introduced by invasive mosquitoes brought to Hawaii less than 200 hundred years ago, have caused the extinction of 34 bird species to date. Currently, just 30% of Hawaii’s native birds remain, and the majority of these species are threatened with extinction.
Twice feared extinct, the endangered Black-Footed Ferret has been the focus of a recovery effort for over thirty years. In 2013, Revive & Restore was invited by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to explore the potential use of genomic technologies to increase the genetic diversity. This year, with our commercial partner Intrexon, we submitted an application for a Recovery Permit under the Endangered Species Act to increase the genetic diversity and to research creating heritable resistance to sylvatic plague. With USFWS, we are satisfying regulatory requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
A virulent strain of herpes kills up to a quarter of all young Asian elephants in the wild, a fact we learned while doing research on Asian elephants for our Woolly Mammoth de-extinction project with George Church and his Harvard lab. To date, no research team has been able to culture the virus from tissue samples, making it impossible to develop vaccines or treatments. The Church Lab is attempting to synthesize the virus in vitro from its sequenced genome in order to develop a version of the virus that can be cultured – the first step in finding a cure. This effort is one of the world’s first projects using synthetic biology to study and treat a wildlife disease. In other words, the mammoth de-extinction effort may confer significant, near-term benefits to Asian elephant conservation. We are pleased to report that the Church lab is making headway on sequencing the virus.
A rapidly spreading invasive fungus, “Rapid Ohi’a Death,” threatens a native Hawaiian tree, the ōhiʻa. About 75,000 acres currently show symptoms of the disease on Hawaiʻi Island. To create resistance, an RNAi topical spray can be applied to temporarily contain the spread of the fungus. This solution would require repeated application while more permanent solutions are developed. The same RNAi gene system could be delivered to adult Ōhi’a trees through an injectable solution, acting as a genetic vaccine. Research would proceed to identify potentially naturally resistant trees, and genetic editing or cross-pollination would be used create heritable resistant.
Invasive rodents are one of the most recognized and persistent threats to island biodiversity globally. This year Revive & Restore was pleased to see that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) made significant investments with several of our most valued partners like Island Conservation to explore the genomic potential to eradicate invasive rodents. The DARPA Safe Genes program is exactly the type of comprehensive analysis that can help ensure that any genetic intervention on invasive species is done responsibly.
In the video clip below, Revive & Restore co-founder Stewart Brand reads the afterward he wrote for Ben Mezrick’s book, Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures.