For some, a new technology called gene drive is the silver bullet capable of eliminating invasive species that decimate the island's wildlife and eradicate the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that killed nearly half a million people last year, mainly in Africa.
Others fear that the genetic engineering process is a one-way ticket to ecological chaos, or that health and conservation objectives are hiding industrial and military objectives.
Defenders and critics confront in Montreal this week in a dark working group under the Convention on Biological Diversity, a 1992 UN treaty forged as a bulkhead against the increasing rate of extinction on our planet.
The Special Committee of Technical Experts on synthetic biology, known as AHTEG, has the task of understanding the increasingly powerful capacity of science to manipulate genomes, and inform the 1
That both sides of the debate on the genetic drive can have valid arguments shows how little is known about this technology, or what might happen if it were ever thrown into the natural world.
One side, however, clearly has more resources.
A handful of sponsors, including the US military The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have invested several hundred million dollars in gene research over the past two years.
Emerging Ag consultancy Emerging Ag said that the Gates Foundation paid $ US1.6 million this summer to roll back a moratorium on the investigation convened last December by more than 100 NGOs.
"The goal was to reach policy makers," said Isabelle Cloche, vice president of strategy for Emerging Ag. AFP.
Gene drive technology works by forcing the hand of evolution, ensuring that an engineering trait is transmitted to a greater proportion of offspring, through many generations, than would naturally have occurred.  Imagine that the trait in question is being male.
In a fast reproducing species, the result will be a cascading reduction of the population, or even extinction.
Gene Drive was first identified as a potential savior for animals decimated by non-native species, such as rodents and mosquitoes, in a 2014 study led by Kevin Esvelt, a scientist MIT.
"Reducing populations of environmentally and economically destructive invasive species" was one of the many "attractive opportunities" offered by technology, he and his colleagues wrote at that time.
Today, Esvelt says he was wrong to awaken the hopes of conservationists, and that the unbridled drive of genes is too dangerous to be used for that purpose.
"You should never build and release a drive system that self-propagates, or really any type of system, that is capable of definitely expanding beyond the target population," he said.
"A and that excludes the control of invasive species, because there is always a native population somewhere."
But Esvelt does not exclude more limited forms of gene management, or other objectives, especially the eradication of mosquito-borne diseases in humans.  In that case, he says, "their target population is each mosquito of that species."
Leveraging gene-editing technology to eliminate malaria-transmitting mosquitoes from sub-Saharan Africa is precisely the goal of Target Malaria, a non-profit research consortium supported by the Gates Foundation.
"Imposing a moratorium on such promising innovations that save lives and improve life so early in its development would be unjustified, harmful and irresponsible," the group said last December in response to the push for the moratorium.
Todd Kuiken, a researcher at North Carolina State University and a member of AHTEG, agrees.
"From a scientific perspective, putting a general moratorium on the genetic drive the research simply does not make sense to me," he told AFP. "You can not learn anything if you can not study."
But Kuiken marks the limit when it comes to army funds. When his university received a $ 6.4 million grant from DARPA to participate in a program aimed at invasive rodents, he chose to abandon it.
"It is possible that DARPA's work is tilting the entire field of synthetic biology towards military applications", Kuiken
His concern is shared by AHTEG member Jim Thomas of ETC Group, an NGO that monitors new technologies that often get ahead of regulatory frameworks.
"The fact that the development of genetic drives is being funded and structured mainly by DARPA spokesman, Jared Adams, said that the approach of the US military was primarily one of caution against the" risks arising from the rapid development and the democratization of gene editing tools, "said DARPA spokesman Jared Adams.
" This convergence of low cost and high availability means that applications for the editing of genes, both positive and negative, could arise. of people or states that operate side of the traditional scientific community and international standards, "he said.
Adams acknowledged a" notional estimate "of approximately $ 100 million in project funds, substantially more than the $ 65 million in subsidies announced in July
"it is the responsibility of DARPA to carry out this research and develop technologies that can Roteger against accidental and intentional misuse, "he added.