Gene drive has already been suggested as a possible tool to control grey squirrels in the UK, an invasive species responsible for the decline of the native red squirrel population since it was introduced in the 1870s. Now, scientists from the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute are also considering using the technology to protect Britain's native, white-clawed crayfish from the invasive US signal crayfish.
The US species was introduced in the 1970s and has already wiped out white-clawed crayfish from some UK regions. Exiting control methods such as trapping have proved ineffective, and a gene drive crayfish carrying infertility genes could offer a solution to the invasive crustaceans. Further research is necessary to ensure that the technology is safe, as well as effective, but scientists are optimistic.
Invasive alien species (IAS) are one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. On islands, the world's biodiversity hotspots, IAS are implicated in 86% of all recorded extinctions. Issues of cost, replicability, and scalability have limited existing tools' ability to control and manage IAS. In order to save thousands of species in imminent peril of extinction, it is necessary to allocate more resources to research, including the development of novel tools such as gene drive.