Evolution-based genetic pest control
Evolution provides a powerful set of weapons for fighting scourges: controlling the insects and rodents that carry disease and eat crops and trees, for example, or pushing back invasive species. Biologists have tried using “genetic drive”—the introduction of disruptive genes into pest populations—with mixed success. Fred Gould works with farmers, conservationists, public-health workers and others to ensure that principles of evolutionary biology are applied in sophisticated and careful ways in the fight against pests.
For example, the white-footed mouse is a reservoir for Lyme disease. Scientists may consider introducing a gene that would make mice unable to transmit the Lyme pathogen. Gould’s work shows that community structure and subtle effects on evolutionary fitness could both play roles in making such interventions ineffective or an ecologically wise choice.