UPDATE: Wired looks at a similar idea – genetically modified rats for the Galapagos Island – and ponders the whole idea of manipulating genetics to “restore” natural areas. Here’s the story.
The NY Times has a story about an idea by an MIT evolutionary biologist to genetically engineer mice so that they don’t pass on Lyme disease, as presented recently in Lyme-infested Nantucket Island:
Using new genome-engineering tools, he proposes to create mice that are either immune to the Lyme-causing pathogen, or to a protein in the tick’s saliva, or both, to break the cycle of transmission. If that works … he would then apply for permission to release thousands of the mice on a smaller, uninhabited island. If the number of infected ticks proved to be sufficiently reduced after two years, Nantucket could be next. The release of a few hundred thousand engineered mice over the course of about a year would ensure a stable population of resistant mice.
This sounds plausible and interesting to me, although there’s always the question of unintended consequences: maybe the genetic changes which disrupt Lyme might do something else that we didn’t anticipate and we don’t like, like maybe make mice impervious to poison. That’s why GMOs are tricky when released in the wild.
But Lyme is such a public-health issue that I think it’s worth the risk. Check out the story for more details.