Researchers mull genetic engineering for conservation

Sept. 25, 2013 at 5:18 PM
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POCATELLO, Idaho, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- The pros and cons of genetic engineering should be weighed to determine if tweaking should be included in the species-saving mix, a U.S. researcher said.

Conservationists are considering rescue remedies, such as moving animal populations to help them track hospitable habitats, to stave off the extinction, basically, of between 15 percent and 40 percent of species by 2050, Michael Thomas of Idaho State University and his colleagues said in the latest edition of Nature.

In a commentary, Thomas and his co-authors consider the pros and cons of adding genetic engineering into the mix.

The authors argue that with the attention agricultural genetic engineering has received and techniques used to transfer genetic material more sophisticated, it is just a matter of time before conservationists apply the approach to safeguard biodiversity.

The authors noted there are many practical challenges to find appropriate target genes to move between populations of the same species -- or even between different species -- to avert extinction of a threatened population.

The effects of moving material to a different environmental and genetic context also would be difficult to predict, the authors said.

However, the authors cautioned that the possibility of using genetic-engineering tools to save biodiversity could lead to inaction with regard to climate change.

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