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How to Conserve Biodiversity with The Help of Synthetic Biology

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Words: 1472 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Words: 1472|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Opponents ans Supporter of the Gene Drive Technique
  2. Summary
  3. References

How to conserve biodiversity with the use of synthetic biology? The essay explores this question showing how synthetic biology can contribute to solving biodiversity conservation challenges.

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Although many people because of previous unpleasant experiences with some genetic technologies would doubt synthetic biology’s potential to fix most biodiversity conservation threats on the environment, I beg to differ in such position. To better delve deeper into the subject matter, I would like to briefly elucidate some key terminologies that may require some clarifications from readers. Synthetic biology is the application of science, technology, and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the design, manufacture, andor modification of genetic materials in living organisms. It is a multidisciplinary field of science that simply involves the application of engineering principles to biology. One of such disciplines in synthetic biology that has attracted much research attention in recent times on which I would like to concentrate regarding this topic is the gene drive. This is basically a genetic engineering technique that modifies genes in such a way that the usual rules of heredity are not followed. The gene drive technology can increase the likelihood for a particular gene to be passed onto the next generation and spread rapidly causing permanent genetic modifications in population (modification drives to increase species resilience) or designed to cause extinction to threatening species (suppressive drives).

Biodiversity conservation refers to the protection, preservation, and management of ecosystems and natural habitats for the variety of species and genes to ensure they remain healthy and functional. This is particularly important because plants, animals, microbes and genetic resources for food production, nutrient recycling, insects for controlling disease are protected. The main objective of protection is to sustain important ecological processes and life support systems on which human existence depends, preserving genetic diversity, and finally, ensuring sustainable use of species and ecosystems.

The rate of biodiversity loss on earth is accelerating in the face of numerous conservation efforts at global, regional, national, and local levels intended to ameliorate the menace. This is the more reason why application of the powerful technique of gene drives is urgently needed to be given the chance in the field of biodiversity conservation to contribute its quota as a rapidly growing technology to save the situation under carefully monitored and controlled conditions to mitigate or avert possible associated risks.

Opponents ans Supporter of the Gene Drive Technique

A gene drive could get out of control and spread violently across country borders, which could create additional legal issues. This anticipated risk of the gene drive is now a headache of the past because Xu et al. has recently developed two methods of preventing gene drives from spreading past a certain point. Through these methods, gene drives can either be deactivated or removed over five to ten generations to prevent any uncontrolled spread.

Depending on the specific role of the species targeted by gene drive technology in a particular ecosystem, predators, prey species, competitors or even complex ecological functions may be negatively affected. To avoid the occurrence of this situation before the gene drive technique is employed in a particular ecosystem the ecological importance of the target species needs to be critically examined and confirmed to be far outweighs the cost of threats it poses in the ecosystem to inform a final decision whether gene drive application would be necessary. For example, to address this possible issue, Target Malaria, an international not-for-profit research consortium is carrying out a study in Ghana to evaluate the role that malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes play in their ecosystem. CRISPR-based gene drives are likely to be invasive in wild populations with unknown potential for ecological effects. I believe this concern could be dealt with when an enforcing regulation ensures a test run of the technology is conducted for a stipulated period (e.g., 5 or more years) in a small area outside the laboratory to evaluate the impact on the ecosystem before massive release of gene drive organisms is permitted into the wild. The issue of gene drive patent could be addressed in a broader stakeholder consultative dialogue for consensus building and standardization to regulate business on the technology. How long is required of a gene drive to remain functional in order to accomplish the goal of its release and if this can be reliably projected. This concern could be addressed through scientific research on a case-by-case basis since target species, chosen environment and the objective for applying a specific gene drive may differ.

On the contrary, gene drives as means of controlling invasive species in comparison with conventional means are environmentally friendly (non-poisonous), easy to apply, their impact can rapidly cover a wider area within the shortest possible time and could therefore be classified as cost-effective approach especially when applied in a larger area. Moreover, threatened bird populations can also be relieved of pressure caused by rodents and the mosquito vector of the avian malaria pathogen through gene drive system by either making all offspring male or sterile. Other ideas through gene drives could modify the genome of coral reef to tolerate high temperatures to lessen the effect of global warming on coral bleaching. A synthetic rhino horn or alternative products could be created through the gene drive technology to alleviate stress on wildlife trade with the endangered Rhino species.

Summary

In conclusion, it is important to emphasize that gene drive technology has the potential to affect nature conservation in both positive and negative ways. For instance, gene drive approaches’ ability to eradicate invasive species from an ecosystem might substantially benefit the local conservation efforts. On the other hand, they have a greater possibility to cause environmental harm if genetic drive organisms escape to the geographic regions where these species are native or have their center of origin. Any escape of genetic drive organisms from the intended localities into such regions could cause severe adverse consequences for nature conservation.

Gene drives represent one of the synthetic biology’s approaches which have the power to spread genes, including genes with negative fitness effects, through a natural population or species. Gene drive applications are at a very early stage of research and must overcome many technical and practical problems before being available for release into the environment. It is therefore vital to examine and remain updated on an environmental risk assessment and a post-release monitoring to be declared fit for the purpose before first environmental releases of gene drive are performed.

In addition to a science-based risk assessment, societal and ethical questions of gene drive organism releases must be addressed. The widespread nature of gene drives coupled with the aim to transform or eradicate wild populations and the difficulty to perform field testing indicate the need for a more comprehensive technology assessment. Such an assessment must also address ethical questions regarding nature conservation.

In summary, there are challenges to genetic drive organism’s application in nature conservation that need further investigations and evaluations, both on a scientific and societal levels. For such an evaluation, instruments of technology assessment might be helpful and deserve a structure in the discourse.

As the use of synthetic biology expands, and if genetic engineering approaches are adopted, it is likely to draw people into the field with different backgrounds and outlooks. This could result in shifts in the profession, including people’s motivations for entering it and their viewpoints on it.

Therefore, my aim here is not to oppose synthetic biology or creative gene drive applications in conservation. It is to elucidate what is novel about them and to identify the sorts of ethical and conservation philosophy issues that they generate when considered as a conservation form of life. The power to drive genetic change through wild populations is significantly different from other conservation approaches. It enables remodeling the biological world at the genomic level in accordance with human beliefs about how organisms ought or need to be. Comprehensive ethical analyses that include both instrumentalist and form-of-life considerations have been largely absent from the conservation genetic engineering discourse, in general and regarding particular projects. This should perhaps give pause to those who hope to deploy genetic engineering and gene drives in an ethically informed and responsible way. Finally, it will be fair for gene drive applications to be given the chance in nature conservation efforts under close monitoring to avert any possible risk on the environment.

References

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25221.

  2. Genetic Literacy Project. (2021). Synthetic Biology and Conservation. Retrieved from: https://geneticliteracyproject.org/keyword/synthetic-biology/

  3. Campell, L. G., Nasu, K., Lee, C., Smith, S. A., & Whitney, K. D. (2019). Genetic tools for promoting conservation genomics in the wild. Conservation Genetics, 20(1), 1-12. doi: 10.1007/s10592-018-1126-5.

  4. National Geographic Society. (2021). Synthetic Biology for Conservation. Retrieved from: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/synthetic-biology-conservation/

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  5. Redford, K. H., Adams, W. M., Mace, G. M. (2013). Synthetic Biology and Conservation of Nature: Wicked Problems and Wicked Solutions. PLoS Biol 11(4): e1001530. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001530.

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How to Conserve Biodiversity With the Help of Synthetic Biology. (2023, August 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-to-conserve-biodiversity-with-the-help-of-synthetic-biology/
“How to Conserve Biodiversity With the Help of Synthetic Biology.” GradesFixer, 14 Aug. 2023, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-to-conserve-biodiversity-with-the-help-of-synthetic-biology/
How to Conserve Biodiversity With the Help of Synthetic Biology. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-to-conserve-biodiversity-with-the-help-of-synthetic-biology/> [Accessed 28 May 2024].
How to Conserve Biodiversity With the Help of Synthetic Biology [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 14 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-to-conserve-biodiversity-with-the-help-of-synthetic-biology/
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