New Zealand’s War on Rats Could Change the World (nov. 2017)
In recent years, many of the country’s conservationists and residents have rallied behind Predator-Free 2050, an extraordinarily ambitious plan to save the country’s birds by eradicating its invasive predators. Native birds of prey will be unharmed, but Predator-Free 2050’s research strategy, which is released today, spells doom for #rats, possums, and stoats (a large weasel). They are to die, every last one of them. No country, anywhere in the world, has managed such a task in an area that big. The largest island ever cleared of rats, Australia’s Macquarie Island, is just 50 square miles in size. New Zealand is 2,000 times bigger. But, the country has committed to fulfilling its ecological moonshot within three decades.
[...] By coincidence, the rise of the Predator-Free 2050 conceit took place alongside the birth of a tool that could help make it a reality—#CRISPR, the revolutionary technique that allows scientists to edit genes with precision and ease. In its raw power, some conservationists see a way of achieving impossible-sounding feats like exterminating an island’s rats by spreading genes through the wild population that make it difficult for the animals to reproduce. Think Children of Men, but for rats. Other scientists, including at least one gene-editing pioneer, see the potential for ecological catastrophe, beginning in an island nation with good intentions but eventually enveloping the globe.