In Jan. 2019 an article about gene drive written by the scientists who genetically engineered a sheep named Dolly in 1996, was published by The Biologist. Although the paper is about gene drive, most of the news reporting about the article focused on gene drive as a possible means of wiping out the grey squirrels considered as wildlife nuisance.
In promoting the article entitled “Accelerating Evolution,” The Royal Society of Biology, being the publisher of The Biologist described the article on Twitter as one where the authors look at new uses for artificial gene drives, including helping amphibians fight fungal diseases and exterminating lice out of fish farms.
The post also mentioned that “Accelerating Evolution” explains how gene drive technology works, and how it could be used in the conservation of amphibians and mammals for agricultural purposes as well as in the protection of public health.
Gene drive was also mentioned as a technology that can achieve the elimination of invasive pests like the grey squirrels in the UK, Australia’s rabbits and New Zealand’s possum. Even more significant would be the possible elimination throughout the globe.
How Gene Drive Article was Picked Up by News Media in the UK
The Biologist’s “Accelerating Evolution” drew coverage in some newspapers because of the fact that one of the authors, Gus McFarlane, is known to be starting a project entitled “Gene drives for controlling the invasive Grey Squirrel in the UK”. Grey squirrels, a species that is native to North America, arrived in Italy sometime in the mid 19th century. They later spread across the continent, populating dense forests including those in the UK.
However, the large squirrel species was later discovered as not only invasive, but also capable of carrying a fungal disease that was deadly to the smaller red squirrels. As a result, the population of red squirrels that are native to the British Isles went on a rapid decline and are now included in Britain’ s list of endangered animals.
All the news reports about gene drive focused on the grey squirrel despite having been mentioned only once in the original paper. None of the other mammals were mentioned in the newspaper articles.
A Mailonline article reported that the same team of scientists who cloned Dolly the sheep, is on a mission to save Britain’s red squirrels by altering the DNA of rival greys so they will die out.
The London Sunday Times carried a news report that said researchers are planning to engineer male grey squirrel population to spread infertility; allowing red squirrels to thrive again in Britain. The Scotsman concluded that the Dolly Sheep scientists hope that through thr DNA editing, the grey squirrels can be wiped out.
The Express Online announced that red squirrels will thrive again in Britain as a new plan considers eradicating the destructive grey breed. The Irish Daily Mail as well as the Scottish Daily Mail carried an article authored by the same writer, said DNA ‘edit’ could succeed in stamping out nuisance grey squirrels,
Apparently, there is much animosity for the grey species among Britons.
U.S. Have Laws on How Grey Squirrel Populations Should be Controlled
Grey squirrels in the U.S are also considered pests because they often invade and cause damages in homes. Generally, the grey species are included in the list of wild animals that states allow game hunters to kill, as doing so would grey squirrel overpopulation.
In Texas, citizens are not allowed to shoot them within residential vicinities and city limits due to the danger posed to people and animals. Residents are only allowed to trap them and then bring them to another location approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Citizens can also opt to call licensed professional squirrel removal companies to safely trap and release the squirrels, as the services they provide include cleaning and repair of the damaged areas.
Wildlife removal experts like the AAAC Wildlife Removal of San Antonio can also resident locate and block possible entry points being used by wildlife nuisance animals.
U.S. Wildlife control agencies say that while it is true that grey squirrels are nuisance animals, they still help the environment through reforestation whenever they scatter seeds on the ground.