Rats and mice that stowed away on ships have wreaked havoc on island species, and while some locales have turned to rodenticide, Scientific American reports that in the future, gene drives may be able to control the pests' numbers. However, though gene drives would eliminate the problems that come along with poison use, they have their own set of issues.
Gene drives, coupled with genome editing, can introduce and spread modifications into a population. For example, Scientific American says that a modified version of a key female rat fertility gene could be introduced into an island rat population. There, it would spread, eventually rendering the entire female population infertile and causing the rats to die out. A similar approach is under consideration, Sciam notes, to contain Culex mosquitos in Hawaii.
But, it adds, there are concerns that a gene drive system might be hard to control or reverse, and could spread beyond the target population. Scientists tell Sciam that more research and different regulations are needed.
"No one should even be building a drive system like this to solve a conservation problem. It's just too early. We don't know enough," Kevin Esvelt from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tells it. "I'm probably the foremost scientific critic of gene drives even though I'm a leader in the field."