The role of advance genomics in conservation biology of endangered species
For my Gene Drive assignment I was very conflicted with the idea of changing something on a species for “selfish” reasons, while trying to come up with an idea of a gene drive that wouldn’t affect their environment or other species in a negative way, I attended to the event: Existential Medicine #5: CRISPR - Edited Humanity in New Lab, in this even I met one of the participants, a Bio Geneticist who works for a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge and before the event started we started talking about the potential of CRISPR, our different backgrounds and how important it was to be able to be part of the conversation, no matter our daily job or education.
During the talk one of the panelists talked about a famous case of CRISPR (famous for other people but it was totally new for me) in which scientists are trying to edit the Cavendish’s (the most consumed species of banana) genome with CRISPR to boost its resilience to TR4 (a deadly fungus), instead of inserting foreign genes. This was fascinating to me, because saving an already existing species, and leaving it the way they are meant that I wouldn’t do any damage to the environment or other plants or animals, however I would be saving the species, in this case, the banana. The conversation in the panel at this point changed to discuss whether or not they would eat a genetically modified banana, and the guest that I have just met in the conference turned to me and said, I believe it would be better to eat a genetically modified banana instead of a banana that has a lot of chemicals and/or contains foreign genes instead of a modification of its own gene (interesting enough, all the panelists agreed that they would 100% eat a banana genetically modified with CRISPR).
At this point I was decided that my Gene Drive assignment was going to be focussed on saving a species in danger of extinction, the only remaining part was to find which species and decide how to use CRISPR to modify one of the alleles in order to be passed with more frequency and be able to propagate the new species in their environment.
Gene Drive: The Pangolin
According to pangolinsg.org Pangolins, or scaly anteaters as they are otherwise known, are unique mammals covered in hard scales, comprised of keratin. They predate almost exclusively on ants and termites and are predominantly nocturnal and elusive, secretive mammals.