The New York Times reflects on the possibilities and the risk of the new genomic techniques for twisting genes. Scientist are following this line of research, for example, to fight against mosquitoes and stopping Zika spreading, but it could be used to preserve biodiversity too.
"This kind of genetic meddling makes many environmentalists deeply uncomfortable. Manipulating nature's DNA seems a hugely risky and ethically fraught way to help save the natural world. And yet, we may need to accept the risks.
On Hawaiian islands, for instance, avian malaria transmitted by mosquitoes is decimating native bird populations. Warmer temperatures have exacerbated the threat, allowing mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite to invade higher-elevation areas that are the last holdouts for some birds. These losses ripple down through food chains, disrupting ecosystems."
More on: Tweaking Genes to Save Species
The genetic changes occurring in endangered species might increase their extinction probabilities. Low population sizes leads to reduced genetic diversity and increased inbreeding. A low of genetic diversity means a reduced ability to adapt to environmental changes. Inbreeding is often associated to reduced reproduction and survival. Genetic factors might thus play an important role in species extinction -and therefore in their conservation.
Molecular genetic markers are often used to assess the genetic status of endangered species and populations. This information is then used to elaborate conservation plans designed to maximize genetic diversity and minimize inbreeding.