“… the rise of the predator-free movement has intersected neatly with the bold new frontier of gene drive technology.” NZ Herald
This NZ Herald article, as is common with mainstream media material, likely flew under the radar on 4th December. Judging by the disbelief from the public at our recent posts on this topic, it clearly didn’t get noticed. The article is basically an expanded version of the last one on topic here, and straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak. It is coaxing you into the up sides of GE. GE Free NZ however has now issued a warning about gene drive tech, that post is coming tomorrow. Read our previous posts on topic over the past week (in archives for December 2017, left column of News page, or search GMO in categories also to the left). Particularly also, search the GE Free NZ site for further info on the GE topic. GE is being sold to the NZ public as good for our health and environment among other things while the down sides are quickly dismissed, swept under the carpet or downplayed by media. As GE Free NZ points out, these GM animals end up euthanised with all kinds of health problems. We need to proceed (if at all) with extreme caution. Why ever does man think he can improve on nature?
From the NZ Herald
“Overseas researchers interested in pest control or eradication are all looking at New Zealand,” says Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague.
‘When Kiwi rat killing expert Doctor James Russell was told his research was being sized up for United States military funding, he wasn’t surprised.
“The US military – they have very long fingers. Even through the universities in New Zealand, they have a representative that comes around and just asks, ‘hey, what are you guys up to’.
“And obviously we’re in the business of eradicating entire populations of animals from an island and so they have cocked their ear towards me once or twice.
“You don’t have to be a genius to see that there’s potential military application in that.”
In this instance, Russell’s work was being measured for suitability against a US$100 million research pot made available by the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa)
Also being evaluated were remote islands around New Zealand, sized up for live trials of genetically modified rodents.
The interest in Russell and New Zealand emerged during an investigation into the activities of a multi-national science advocacy and gene drive research body called Gbird.
It has a US$6.5m slice of that Darpa money and has been considering how to spend that in New Zealand.
The detail was revealed in a database of emails and documents charting Gbird’s growing focus on New Zealand – and the involvement of a taxpayer-owned Crown Research Institute which told the consortium it would make gene drive research a focus of “NZ Inc”.
It shows how the rise of the predator-free movement has intersected neatly with the bold new frontier of gene drive technology.
Gene drive research is the latest, greatest frontier in science as scientists grapple with the implications of genetic manipulation to remove inherited characteristics from subsequent generations. For example, wiping out one gender from a population of rats means no more rats.’
The database of more than 2000 documents released by North Carolina State University (NCSU) reveal Gbird’s interest in New Zealand as a possible test site and its efforts to get alongside those leading our fight against predators.
The documents show careful efforts by Gbird – Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents – to shape its image and manage possible fallout associated with the US$6.5m pool of Darpa cash.
Among the documents is the report of the meeting with Russell’s meeting in mid-2017 with Gbird’s co-ordinator Royden Saah.
After the meeting, Saah reported to Gbird members: “Co-ordinating with James Russell. Appears no NZ islands meet the strict criteria used within Darpa grant.
“We are now considering small NZ islands that don’t have rodents present that could be used as trial sites, with mice sourced from remote NZ islands larger than our 300ha cut-off that may be future targets themselves.”
First it’s important to understand where New Zealand sits in the world of pest eradication.
Our national goal of wiping out possums, rats and stoats roughly sits with the research focus of leading thinkers on gene drive technology.
That’s because it’s not just about being able to create new technology but what you do with it. And in a world of potential – agricultural or medical benefits – conservation has become a core area of interest to gene drive researchers.
Gene drive technology appeared to offer definite answers to those seeking to eradicate predators. It also offered a permissive, public-friendly area in which to explore new technology.
A critical aspect of new technology is the willingness of society to allow new frontiers to be explored.