The Galapagos Islands’ precious biodiversity is at risk with invasive rat species sneaking on ships and preying on endangered eggs and hatchlings. One potential solution is to genetically modify the rats to only be male, effectively dooming future reproduction. But the irony of such unnatural selection is not lost on critics of the idea.
The Island Conservation nonprofit tasked with ridding islands of invasive species have been eyeing the Galapagos’ recurring rat problem. The organization is considering using what is called a “gene drive” to alter the DNA of rats in the area so there will only be males. The thing with genetically altering wildlife is that there’s no going back once you introduce GMOs into the wild. Luckily, the ocean would provide a natural barrier to an uncontrollable spread, but some are considering the ethical question of whether we should, rather than the practical question of how.
Gene drives are responsible for preventing the spread of malaria through GMO mosquitos and are being considered for Zika outbreaks, as well. Using this technology for rats would be considered less harmful than poisoning, as it would allow the creatures to live out their natural lives. Wired reports that a massive rat poisoning campaign from 2007 to 2014 rid the islands of most of the rodents, yet the hardy critters will surely be back and a more permanent solution just may be the ticket.