Bridget Baumgartner
Speaker's Institution
Revive and Restore
Bio 136
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We are living in a time of unprecedented advances in biotechnology in the fields of medicine and agriculture. At Revive & Restore, we believe that biotechnology can also create opportunities for solving some of wildlife conservation’s most challenging problems, including genetic bottlenecks, wildlife diseases, climate change, and invasive species. While the term “genetic rescue” has been used in conservation for several decades, we prefer an expansive definition that includes the use of advanced biotechnologies. With the increasing affordability of genomic sequencing and the advent of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, there is an opportunity to develop a suite of innovative new genetic rescue applications. To that end, we are building a Genetic Rescue Toolkit that has the potential to advance and complement conventional conservation practice. We launched the Catalyst Science Fund in 2018 to support transformative early-stage bioscience research and proof-of-concept projects that can be applied to high-value, high-impact conservation challenges and build out the genetic rescue toolkit. Any genetic rescue application, for any species, can benefit from two things: One, the sequencing of a high-quality reference genome of that species; and two, the biobanking of a source of viable cells or tissue accessioned into a biorepository for future research. These foundational resources can accelerate conservation efforts. Yet these basic, non-controversial, readily obtainable tools are still lacking for most wildlife species. We started the Wild Genomes program, to advance the adoption of genomic sequencing and tissue biobanking for applied wildlife conservation. Other, more complex genetic rescue applications require genetic engineering and gene editing tools. These tools can help increase genetic diversity and facilitate adaptation, control invasives, and even bring species back from extinction (see our Black Footed Ferret Project, Advanced Coral Toolkit program, and Biotech for Bird Conservation program). While these applications are not without controversy and will require concerted effort to develop, we are in support of the development of all the tools in the toolkit and their effective, ethical use. To truly succeed, Genetic Rescue Toolkit applications must complement proven conservation approaches, such as habitat restoration and protection, resource management, invasive species control, captive breeding, adaptive conditioning, translocations, reintroductions, policy and advocacy, and ecological replacement.