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Scientists fight to make invasive pest control palatable to the public

Close up of a European carp which have infested the Murray-Darling Basin "They talk about the facts, they talk about the science … the evidence, the 'p values', the correlations," she says. In this episode of Big Ideas a panel of experts discuss the future of invasive pest control. Polyguard Expands With New Manufacturing FacilityDr MacDonald is speaking at the Australasian Vertebrate Pest conference, which has been hearing about potentially game-changing weapons in the battle against invasive pest animals. There's a herpes virus to kill off the carp clogging up Murray Darling waterways; more advanced bio-control for rabbits; and a promising technology called gene drive, which may be able to cause the reproductive collapse of some feral animal populations. However, she cautions scientists to learn from past lessons such as the public resistance to GM (genetically modified) technology. review "People make their decisions not based on the scientific facts, but on their value system," she says. Dr MacDonald says if scientists don't have a conversation with the public around values, "we're going to the end up with a climate change debacle again" — because facts alone don't ensure public support. While it's impossible to convince everyone to accept all scientific findings, or welcome every breakthrough in biotechnology, Dr MacDonald insists the public must be consulted, and broadly supportive, before disruptive new science is rolled out. Especially when it involves animal welfare. Australian conservation scientist Karl Campbell, whose job involves killing invasive animals on the Galapagos Islands to protect native species, says most scientists in this space "love animals". "We're not killing animals because we like doing [it] — if we had other tools to use, we would be using them. But we don't at present," Dr Campbell says. Mark Tizard, a senior scientist in genome engineering at CSIRO is hopeful gene drive technology could prove to be a transformative pest control tool. But he agrees with Dr MacDonald that it is necessary to obtain a social license to operate — particularly when that tool is "inescapably GM". "Traditionally, scientists have been in the back room working away, designing their thing, stepping out with their shiny new invention, showing it to the world," Dr Tizard says. Photo: CSIRO scientist Mark Tizard (right) says scientists must better engage with the public. (ABC News: Caitlyn Gribbin) "And the world goes 'that's fantastic', or 'oh my god, what have you done?'" "It's become very clear for us, as lab scientists, that we can't just go away and make something and then wheel it out." Gene drive employs CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene-editing techniques and can be used to engineer inheritance. A manipulated gene, for example, could be placed into a pest species and that gene would then duplicate in future generations — meaning offspring would inherit the engineered genetic trait. Photo: Mosquito eradication might fight malaria — but something worse could take its place. (Flickr: Wellcome Images) One suggested use for gene drive technology is to engineer male-only offspring, that could result — eventually — in the total collapse of a pest species. An ideal outcome, you might think.

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