Treating a lake for Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) has proven to be very difficult. It is hard to find chemicals that are targeted to impact only the invasive without eradicating the native plants. Treatment must be ongoing, year after year, because eradication has proven to be almost impossible. AIS management is expensive, and tallies into the millions in Minnesota each year.
What is needed is something that can be put in a lake that is targeted to kill only one species, is self replicating so that it only needs to be introduced once, and is affordable.
We are at the cusp of finding just that solution, but the implications of this solution do give pause and raise concerns.
At the 2016 Aquatic Invaders Summit attendees will hear a presentation on CRISPR gene drive technology, a method of editing the genes of living organisms in specific ways that, when introduced into a population, cause it to die off. It is a programmed fatal flaw. The process is inexpensive and relatively easy to accomplish. It would allow managers to create a strain of zebra mussel that would produce only male offspring, for instance. The gene is passed on to all future generations and quickly takes over wild populations so that all zebra mussels in a given lake would soon be male, resulting in a complete crash of the population. This technology solves all of the above problems, cheap, easy, needs to be only introduced once and highly targeted.
But it is easy to see the risks of such a technology. What environmental ripples would the global loss of mosquitoes, for instance, cause? What would be the ecological impacts if zebra mussels from Lake Minnetonka made their way back to the Caspian Sea where zebra mussels are native? Species like bighead carp that are environmentally devastating in the United State are a major food source in China? This powerful technology holds amazing promise, but also raises important questions about ethical ramifications, risk management, and appropriate application and regulation.
At the 2016 Aquatic Invaders Summit Chris Merkes and Jon Amberg from the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, US Geological Survey will give a presentation about CRISPR gene drive technology, the potential uses and the potential risks. In the years to come you will hear more about this technology. There is no doubt that the debate regarding its use will be intense and ongoing.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing methods to control CRISPR by adding a “Daisy Chain” to the gene drive. For a short video on this, click HERE.
This is just one of the more than 50 presentations available at the 2016 Aquatic Invaders Summit.
The 2016 Aquatic Invaders Summit will feature both national cutting edge programs and technology with the innovation and success of Minnesota’s best programs.
Space at the River’s Edge Convention Center is limited and we have to cap registrations at 450 due to space constraints. So register today.