Transforming Ecology and Conservation Biology Through Genome Editing

Novel applications of CRISPR technology have the potential to make significant contributions to ecology and conservation.


As the conservation challenges increase, new approaches are needed to help combat losses in biodiversity and slow or reverse the decline of threatened species. Genome-editing technology is changing the face of modern biology, facilitating applications that were unimaginable only a decade ago. The technology has the potential to make significant contributions to the fields of evolutionary biology, ecology, and conservation, yet the fear of unintended consequences from designer ecosystems containing engineered organisms has stifled innovation. To overcome this gap in the understanding of what genome editing is and what its capabilities are, more research is needed to translate genome-editing discoveries into tools for ecological research. Emerging and future genome-editing technologies include new clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) targeted sequencing and nucleic acid detection approaches as well as species genetic barcoding and somatic genome-editing technologies. These genome-editing tools have the potential to transform the environmental sciences by providing new noninvasive methods for monitoring threatened species or for enhancing critical adaptive traits. A pioneering effort by the conservation community is required to apply these technologies to real-world conservation problems.

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