Welcome to the first of a new series of blog posts discussing what has been hitting the press this month in PLOS Biology. During November we’ve been talking about conserving what we already have and looking forward into the future with cool new scientific tools.
Firstly we’re heading over to Oceania where researchers have been tackling issues of conservation in both Australia and New Zealand.
Conservation of endemic species (such as the national symbol, the kiwi) is a key issue in New Zealand, and new research warns that ambitious goals to eradicate mammalian pests need to be balanced with responsible conservation strategies. The article explores the potential consequences of using gene drive systems, which distort the rule that there is a 50:50 chance of a gene copy being passed on, for conservation. When coupled to a genetic trait that affects an individual’s survival or ability to reproduce, gene drive becomes a powerful tool that can be used for population control or even local elimination. The authors assert that their earlier suggestion to use gene drive for conservation was “a mistake”, and that introducing such a system “without the permission of every other country harbouring the target species would be highly irresponsible.”
The future of the Great Barrier Reef may not be as bleak as originally predicted. Out of the 3800 or so individual reefs, scientists have discovered 100 regionally connected undisturbed reefs which have the potential to supply coral larvae needed for regeneration to almost half of the entire Great Barrier Reef ecosystem in a single year. Whilst this is fantastic news for the reef, don’t get too excited — the ecosystem is still vulnerable to stressors like rising sea temperatures or the voracious crown-of-thorns starfish, and effective local protection is needed in order to capitalise on opportunities for regeneration. Click here to read the findings in full.
Sticking with the theme of oceans, a citizen science project has developed Sonic Kayaks (yes, you read that right!) that allow paddlers to hear water temperature data transformed into sound in real time, as well as sounds from under the water. The kayaks generate live music and can be used as a data collection device or as a sound-art installation in their own right. The soothing sounds of the ocean are freely available, and the authors chatted to the BBC about the project back in 2016.
Our final ‘cool tool’ from November comes in the form of a low-cost dipstick which can be used to extract DNA and RNA from living organisms in just 30 seconds. These easily transportable tools, which can even be fashioned from paper towels, make it possible to collect and prepare samples virtually anywhere, even in the middle of a jungle. The extracted DNA can be used for a variety of applications, from disease diagnosis, to identifying pathogens in plants and food, and the technology has the potential to “benefit people in both developed and developing nations to tackle a range of agricultural, health and environmental problems.”
See you in December for more news hot off the press!
Featured image credit: Peter Mumby