Views sought on use of gene technology on eco issues

Researchers from the Universities of Otago and Auckland want to learn how New Zealanders feel about the use of genetic technology to solve environmental problems.

Should genetic technologies be used to reduce numbers of rats? Or to control the fungus that causes myrtle rust? If not, why not? If so, who would you trust to oversee the programme? What rules need to be in place?

Dunedin residents are invited to a workshop to discuss their views on the topic, to be held on Tuesday, April 9, from 6pm-7.30pm, in the Dunningham Suite, fourth floor, Dunedin Public Library.

A second workshop for Otago University students and staff will be held from 12.30pm-2pm on Wednesday, April 10, in the Otago Room, OUSA Clubs and Societies Centre.

The team will also be hosting workshops in Queenstown and Milton in early April.

Project lead Dr Fabien Medvecky said in the workshops small groups would discuss an environmental scenario in-depth and decide together what they would like to see in the future

"We all have a stake in the future of our natural environment. So whether you know lots about genetic technologies, or nothing at all, we’d love to see you there. Every voice counts," Dr Medvecky said.

The team has already completed two phases of this project, which is funded by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

During the first phase, they ran sessions in several locations, including Auckland, Queenstown, Dunedin and Rakiura Stewart Island, to hear people’s aspirations for our natural environment as a whole.

The research team then spoke to a variety of interest groups and experts to better understand the current technologies being used, as well as the potential genetic technologies that might be developed.

They used these conversations to develop a set of scenarios about rats, varroa mites, wilding pines and myrtle rust.

"We want to make sure people get an unbiased view of the problem and the possible solutions, so they can make up their own minds about whether genetic technologies are right for Aotearoa New Zealand and if so, how they need to be regulated," Dr Medvecky said.