The goal of our effort is to begin to create a future in which new genomic technologies can be considered thoughtfully and eventually deployed safely and effectively to help conserve the Earth’s biodiversity. The conservation community is facing a range of intractable problems in their mission to ensure biodiversity conservation. Of particular concern are exotic diseases of wildlife and invasive species. Existing tools and approaches have proved largely ineffective in addressing these problems. However, opportunities are emerging based on new genetic tools being developed for human biomedicine as part of the new fields of synthetic biology and genomic technology.
Scientists have developed extremely precise genome-editing techniques such as CRISPR that may make it possible to adjust the genes of endangered wildlife populations toward disease resistance and even “facilitated adaptation.” The new “gene drive” mechanism has the potential to reduce or completely extirpate a population of rapidly reproducing sexual organisms such as mosquitoes, fleas, tree-killing insects, and invasive non-native plants and animals. These tools could be used to develop a sophisticated genomic toolkit for minimally disruptive “precision conservation,” if developed responsibly.
The workshop is designed as the critical first step in constructive engagement between the genomic technology community and the conservation community. By focusing on a specific set of case studies to which genomic techniques might be applied we will be able to drill down on these scientific challenges but also open the larger conversation about the rights and responsibilities of these new technologies.
This workshop will explore the application of genomic technologies (CRISPR, Gene Drives, RNAi and enginereed sterility) with a variety of conservation problems. Such tools have the potential to provide new solutions to some of the most intractable problems facing conservation: 1) exotic diseases of wildlife with known vectors, 2) exotic diseases with potential for genetic disease resistance, and 3) destructive invasive species.
Potential case studies include:
- Diseases with vectors:
- Avian malaria (mosquitoes)
- Sylvatic plague (fleas)
- Exotic diseases with potential for genetic disease resistance
- Chytrid (amphibians)
- White-nose syndrome (bats)
- Herpes virus (Asian elephants)
- Invasive Species
- Rodents on islands
- Ants on islands
- Aquatic invasives
We have created three Work Groups for the workshop which are already taking shape and meeting by phone and via a listserv to make sure that when the meeting actually begins in April that a lot of groundwork has been done.
Workshop Cosponsors and Collaborators
Revive & Restore is working with a host committee that includes these organizations: Archipelago Consulting, EcoHealth Alliance, Island Conservation, San Diego Frozen Zoo, Turner Endangered Species, and the Wyss Institute. Sponsors to date include the Autodesk, National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, Turner Endangered Species Fund, USDA APHIS, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Zygote Ventures, and an anonymous large Charitable Trust.