Genetic solution finds audience
After 23 years, a retired professor who has a potential new genetic pest control for the future is being listened to.
Former University of Otago professor John Knight’s appeals to Government, including a succession of Prime Ministers over ‘‘decades’’, fell on deaf ears – until Wednesday. He delivered a presentation, at the request of the Otago Regional Council, on a ’’novel approach’’ to eradicate pests in New Zealand.
‘‘This will sound extraordinary but we have been trying for 23 years to get branches of Government to understand the need for a novel approach to control pests in the country. This is the first time I have been invited to speak to any branch of Government, central or local.’’
Knight said the CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive system could be used to engineer males that produce only male offspring. These males will in turn mate with females in the wild, and only produce male offspring.
‘‘I have applied six time for Government funding to get this work going.’’
He had not received a ‘‘shred of feedback’’ for why the applications had been denied - but he suspected a perceived ‘‘social risk’’ was coming into play.
‘‘I don’t want to dwell on the whys and wherefores but an obsession with the risks of genetic modification have clearly came into play.’’
Currently, vast amounts of poison was dumped out of aircraft in the hope that it was going to solve the problem.
‘‘Attempts to develop better methods, better traps, better diseases...they all face a problem - these methods will never reach an end point.’’
Knight was seeking $1.5 million over three years to start the ‘‘basic work’’ needed, and cited the ORC’s Pest Management Strategy for 2009-2019, which supports research in new pest control tools, including biological control.
Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said he was supportive of regional councils across the country ‘‘having a conversation’’ about the proposal.
‘‘It is an interesting conversation to occur and we will try and get it in front of our national chairs and chief executives. There is a gradual movement in the community understanding we are going to have to face up to some of these things.
‘‘The current tools are not sustainable long term.’’