Genetic engineering to the rescue?

by Peter Dearden and Stephen Goldson

Genetic modification is an option we can no longer afford to ignore when it comes to biosecurity.

Peter Dearden, the head of biochemistry at the University of Otago, is co-director of Genomics Aotearoa and deputy director of Bioprotection Aotearoa. Stephen Goldson is an academic associate at Koi Tū: the Centre for Informed Futures, and an emeritus principal scientist in AgResearch.

They co-authored a piece for the Dominion Post which outlines how Aotearoa-New Zealand’s ecology is such that invasive pests can rapidly multiply and become a major threat to agriculture and sometimes public health.

They write: “So while we struggle to control already-introduced damaging pests, we must also remain vigilant against new incursions. This century’s invaders include the beehive-destroying varroa mite, cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, myrtle rust and most recently the fall armyworm that threatens crops such as sweetcorn and maize.

Given our existing pest problems and the likelihood of new ones being inflicted on us by global warming, we need to begin to investigate genetic options. However, the country’s current genetic-modification regulations make that difficult.

We need a future-focused research strategy that includes genetic modification and maintain this as an option so we can develop the knowledge and tools required.”

Read the full opinion editorial here.

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