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Potential solution to our lionfish problem

Ocean pest: invasive lionfish are a major threat to native marine species

Dear Sir,

We all know that the lionfish species that has invaded Bermuda waters is a problem for all of us. Many have been working diligently to find a solution. These solutions involve, mostly, catch-and-remove sorts of approaches. But there is another way that will be possible in the near future.

This is CRISPR gene-drive technology: a gene-editing procedure that allows scientists to change any gene, or even part of one, and pass that change through to future generations.

This is not possible to implement with lionfish yet, but it soon will be. Scientists have already created a gene drive in mosquitoes that wiped out the malaria-carrying ability in 100 per cent of the next generation. That amount of success is pretty much unheard of in nature. It is an amazing, and pretty scary, advance in science.

With the spectre of this daunting scientific breakthrough before us, it behooves us to start talking about it now.

There will be many issues to tackle, but the promise this technology holds is nothing short of astounding. Potentially, we could eliminate all female lionfish very quickly, perhaps in a generation. This is a short time, given lionfish reproduction cycles.

There would be many issues to consider and precautions that would need to be taken. Something like this would need to be introduced very carefully. We would need to ask, “What could possibly go wrong?” And then ensure we do no harm. Scientists are talking about making gene drives that self-destruct after several generations, for instance.

I would be interested in discussing this CRISPR idea with any and all stakeholders, focus groups, government representatives and/or private citizens.