When Extinction is Warranted: Invasive Species, Suppression-Drives, and the Worst-Case Scenario

Ethics, Policy and Environment:1-21 (forthcoming)
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Most current techniques to deal with invasive species are ineffective or have highly damaging side effects. To this end suppression-drives based on clustered regularly inter-spaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR/Cas9) have been touted as a potential silver bullet for the problem, allowing for a highly focused, humane and cost-effective means of removing a target species from an environment. Suppression-drives come with serious risks, however, such that the precautionary principle seems to warrant us not deploying this technology. The focus of this paper is on one such risk – the danger of a suppression-drive escaping containment and wiping out the target species globally. Here, I argue that in most cases this risk is significant enough to warrant not using a gene-drive. In some cases, however, we can bypass the precautionary principle by using an approach that hinges on what I term the ‘Worst-Case Clause’. This clause, in turn, provides us with a litmus test that can be fruitfully used to determine what species are viable targets for suppression-drives in the wild. Using this metric in concert with other considerations, I suggest that only three species are currently possible viable targets – the European rabbit, ship rat and Caribbean Tree Frog.
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