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Can genetics offer new tools for wildlife biologists?

Cara J

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Could genetic advances in the laboratory transform wildlife management on the ground? It’s a question APHIS Wildlife Services biologists are asking as they look at adopting genetic technologies increasingly being used in medicine to the field of wildlife biology. “We’re on the tail end of this wave in terms of wildlife applications,” said Larry Clark, director of Wildlife Services’ National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. Medical and industrial applications are farther ahead, but some of these emerging technologies, like gene editing, gene drives and gene silencing, could hold promise for wildlife management. “The things we, universities and other collaborators are working on were once science fiction.Fifty years from now, the things that are on the horizon,the things we’re investigating from a science perspective, will probably be much more commonplace,” Clark said. The science behind these technologies is complex, but getting social acceptance of some of these techniques may prove even trickier. Genetic technologies could hold promise for conserving wildlife and reducing threats, he said, but before they can be deployed, society has to weigh their potential benefits and consequences, and government needs to create appropriate regulation. It’s a topic Wildlife Services biologists plan to address at a symposium, Current and Future Genetic Technologies for Wildlife Management, scheduled for the TWS Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, which takes place Oct. 7 [...]

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