Tuesday, September 17, 2002

There's lots of good stuff in the November Wired . Besides a couple of pieces on the spread of 802.11 WiFi networks, which I will talk about when they are online, we have this great piece on an Australian plot to eliminate awful introduced carp that are infesting Australia's waterways. I actually am an Australian, and Australia is amazingly sensitive about its native wildlife. As you grow up, the distinction is constantly made to you about the difference between native and introduced wildlife. Native is generally good. Introduced is generally bad. This is the right attitude to have in Australia, because the continent was largely cut off from the rest of the world prior to 1788, and it is full of unique and fascinating species. Many of these are terribly susceptible to being overrun by foreign species, so great care must be taken. When you enter Australia, you are not permitted to carry any animal or plant matter that is alive, or that could conceivably be alive.

However, it was only when I came to live in England that I realised that it is the Australian position that is largely the atypical one. Europe, Asia, Africa and even the Americas have been mixing their wildlife with each other for millennia. New species will occasionally overrun old species, but that hard line between introduced and native simply doesn't exist in other parts of the world.

Anyway, back to the carp. What is striking to me is how clever this is, and how remarkably safe it seems. The point is that if you just throw a few modified fish in the water and stop doing it, the species will evolve the all male gene out fast enough. The point is that the process of extinction must move faster than the process of evolution, and you have to keep throwing the modified species in until the fish are all gone. If the all male gene jumps species to some other kind of fish, it doesn't matter because without being replenished the genes will just evolve out of the other species. This is so much better and safer than uncontrolled biological warfare in which you introduce a new animal to supposedly kill the old one, and you just have a plague of the new one. (Something that has happened a few times in Australia's history).

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