In association with the New Zealand International Science Festival, this month the Challenge hosted a discussion panel on the role that gene editing could play for pest control in Aotearoa New Zealand. Located down in Ōtepoti Dunedin, over 100 people came along to hear from the panel of four expert speakers from Biological Heritage.

Hosted by Professor Peter Dearden from the University of Otago, the discussion focused on the future of gene editing in Aotearoa, its potential for use in pest control, and how we can partner with mātauranga Māori experts. 

Professor Phil Lester, from Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, studies the population dynamics and ecology of social insects, and has researched molecular genetic approaches that include gene silencing and next generation sequencing. Phil’s expertise provided insight into how gene editing works, and how it could be used for pest eradication. 

Tame Malcolm, a knowledge broker for the Challenge with more than 10 years of experience in biosecurity and biodiversity management, said that “we need to have neutral conversations about it to see if it is something society is ready for.” 

“The role of panels like this is to inform, but it’s not for us to drive the conversation,” said Peter. 

The discussion touched on topics such as current pest control efforts, government and public positions on gene editing technology, communication requirements and ethical considerations. 

“The scale of the decline of biodiversity is outrageous and it’s critical” said Aroha Mead, a political scientist who specializes in mātauranga Māori and Indigenous cultural and intellectual property issues, with an interest in Indigenous perspectives on technologies such as gene editing.  

“Conservation issues are social issues” said Brent Beaven, the Programme Manager for Predator Free 2050 at the Department of Conservation with over 20 years of experience working in the field. “The only ethical thing I’m sure about is that it’s not ethical to do nothing. It’s not ethical to let these species be driven to extinction.” 

Interested in hearing more? This discussion was recorded and will be released as a podcast for RNZ’s Our Changing World – we’ll post it here when it’s available. 

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