More than 4000 native plants and animals, including the kereru pigeon and the kiwi are at risk of extinction in New Zealand. In 2016, the national government announced the adoption of the programme Predator Free 2050, aiming to reverse biodiversity loss trends in the country. A few years have passed, and many academics and researchers are still sceptical about whether this goal is feasible. The main reason? The programme rejects one of the most promising invasive predator management tools – gene editing.
According to specialists from the University of Otago, current technologies are unlikely to win this battle alone and the attempt to do so could cost a significant proportion of the national budget. However, there is no gene-editing research underway in New Zealand. The Predator Free programme excludes the possibility of using genetically modified organisms and technologies such as CRISPR to develop new invasive predator control methods.
Of all technologies currently on the horizon, only gene editing potentially offers an affordable and effective eradication alternative, says Lisa Ellis, professor of philosophy and politics at the University of Otago. The Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage emphasises that further research is needed before any gene editing technologies can be implemented, but also recognises that it is vital to have a public conversation on the issue.