Developing a gene drive blueprint for invasive wasps, how could we, and should we?
New Zealand is greatly impacted by invasive pests. Over 1500 species of insects have invaded New Zealand, the same number as are present in all of Europe, despite our islands being only 5% of the land mass.
The worst of these invasive predators are social wasps, which in New Zealand reach the highest density in the world. Invasive wasps damage our ecosystems as they are predators, competing with and predating not only other insects but also our native bird species. We have few effective tools to control invasive wasps. Currently, we rely on fipronil, an insecticide banned in the United States and European Union. Fipronil baiting is currently our best method of control, but it is ineffective in social wasp eradication. Our ecosystem will continue to be damaged as these pests grow in number every year, and this problem will not be solved through inaction.
One novel potential method of invasive pest control is a gene drive. Gene drives bias the heritability of a deleterious genetically modified construct causing it to be spread through a population, ultimately leading to population collapse. Unfortunately for non-model organism researchers, the vast majority of papers in this area focus on flies, mosquitos and mice. Social wasps are thought to be a prime opportunity for a gene drive because of their economic and ecological impact. However, currently, little is known about how a gene drive might function in a haplodiploid, hymenopteran system.
In this talk, I will discuss what would be needed to make a gene drive to rid New Zealand of invasive wasps without impacting their endemic range? I will also discuss what fundamental biology must be understood to develop a gene drive in a haplodiploid species? We decided to develop a framework for generating a gene drive for invasive wasps in New Zealand, to determine if this technology could be a silver bullet against wasps.