By Carolina Torres Trueba, International Legal and Administrative Manager, Island Conservation

Islands are a focal point in the global biodiversity crisis. Despite making up only 5 percent of the planet, they have seen 61 percent of all recorded extinctions since the 1500s and are home to 40 percent of all vertebrates that are currently considered to be critically endangered. The human introduction of invasive animals to islands — particularly mammals like rats, cats, and goats —has had devastating consequences, including the extinction of local species and extensive habitat damage.

Juvenile Antipodean Albatross in the Antipodes Islands. Photograph: Island Conservation

A new paper released by Island Conservation and colleagues across the globe, titled "The Global Contribution of Invasive Vertebrate Eradication as a Key Island Restoration Tool", shows that eliminating invasive species from islands is one of the most effective tools to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in these areas. The paper is the first compilation of all documented pest eradications on islands around the world. The Database of Island Invasive Species Eradications (DIISE), a publicly available dataset, was used to compile almost one hundred years' worth of attempts to eradicate invasive vertebrates from nearly one thousand islands. The investigation discovered an 88 percent success rate, revealing the impact and potential of invasive species eradication as a tool for biodiversity conservation.

Why is risk assessment important for gene drive? As gene drive technologies move closer to potential field evaluations, it is important that they be responsibly assessed to make sure they can be used safely and efficiently. The purpose of the risk assessment process is to identify potential pathways to harm that could lead to adverse health or environment impacts, and thus implement suitable measures that can eliminate or mitigate risks.

In collaboration with the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research, the ISAAA SEAsia Center published a new policy brief entitled Risk Assessment for Gene Drive Organisms. The policy brief was developed following the Key Considerations for Risk Assessment of Gene Drive Technologies webinar, the second in the 2022 Gene Drive Webinar Series led by the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research and the ISAAA SEAsia Center. It provides an overview of the appropriateness of current guidelines, best practices, and gaps in the processes through which gene drive technologies are being developed and assessed.

The upcoming GeneConvene and TReND course “Gene Editing: Theory and Practice” is a unique opportunity to learn more about how gene editing technologies work and their potential applications in Africa.

The event will take place from October 31 to November 12, 2022, at the Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe. Bringing together researchers from Africa and beyond, the course will be an opportunity for trainees to meet with experts who work towards the development of gene editing technologies for a variety of different applications.

The course is split into two phases. The first part is a theoretical introduction into genome editing and its applications in Africa. This will be followed by a practical course on molecular biology, genome editing and their applications in various model systems (zebrafish, fruit flies, and mosquitoes). The course aims to provide participants with the knowledge to successfully perform genetic manipulations related to their research. The faculty for this course will include Dr Tony Nolan (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine), Dr Hind Abushama (University of Karthoum) and Dr David O’Brochta (Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH)), among many others.

By Dr Omar Akbari, The Akbari Lab, UC San Diego

Every year on August 20, World Mosquito Day is commemorated to increase public awareness of the potentially life-threatening diseases spread by mosquitoes, and the steps that may be taken to prevent them. The day was originated in 1897 by Dr Ronald Ross of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. During a dissection, Ross discovered the malaria parasite in the stomach walls of a female mosquito, leading him to declare the first World Mosquito Day as an opportunity to raise awareness of the link between mosquitoes and malaria.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the main vector of several major pathogens including yellow fever, dengue, and Zika viruses.  

A recent report published by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, explores the Australian public’s attitudes and perceptions towards the use of gene drive technology for the management of invasive species, by using the example of feral cats. Invasive species, such as feral cats, have a devastating impact on Australia’s biodiversity, natural landscapes, and agricultural industries. Every year, feral cats alone kill an estimated 1.8 billion Australian animals. On top of the devastating environmental toll, current control methods have proven to be quite costly and difficult to apply at scale. To address this challenge, and protect Australia’s native biodiversity, new approaches, such as the use of gene drive technologies, are being investigated.