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University of Adelaide researchers developing gene drive technology to combat invasive mice


Researchers at the University of Adelaide have released their findings about the potential effectiveness of gene drive technology to control invasive mice.

The technology — named t-CRISPR — uses sophisticated computer modelling on laboratory mice.

DNA technology is used to make alterations to a female fertility gene and, once the population is saturated with the genetic modification, the females that are generated will be infertile.

Research paper co-first author and post-graduate student Luke Gierus said the technology was the first genetic biological control tool for invasive animals.

"So we can do an initial seeding of a couple hundred mice and that will be enough, in theory, to spread and eradicate an entire population," he said.

"We've done some modelling in this paper and we've shown using this system we can release 256 mice into a population of 200,000 on an island and that would eradicate those 200,000 in about 25 years."

The team has been undertaking the research for five years.

Mr Gierus said the next step would be to continue testing in laboratories before releasing mice onto islands where the team could safely monitor the effects.

He said the method was far more humane than other methods, such as baiting.

"It's potentially a new tool that can either be used alongside the current technology or by itself," Mr Gierus said.

"This is quite a revolutionary technology that gives us another way to try and control and suppress mice."

Technology welcomed

CSIRO research officer and mouse expert Steve Henry said wiping out mice from agricultural systems would be a wonderful outcome but he could not see it happening any time soon.

"The farming community are fantastic in terms of their willingness to adopt new ideas, so while it's really important to do this research, the time frame is long and we need to make sure we don't say we have a solution that's just around the corner."

But Mr Henry believed the technology would be welcomed with open arms when it did arrive.

"While we need to be focusing on the stuff that we can use to control mice now, we also need to be looking outside of the box in terms of these new technologies … into the future," he said.

Mr Henry said that while he did not have extensive knowledge about the technology, it was exciting.

"The other thing that is really cool is you can make it so it doesn't affect native rodent species as well," he said.

Farmers group welcomes research

Grain Producers South Australia chief executive officer Brad Perry said introduced mouse species could severely damage crops and equipment, and recent plagues had been destructive.

"When it comes to pests and diseases in grain and agriculture more broadly, we need to be innovative and think outside the square on prevention measures," Mr Perry said.

He said technology such as this could help farmers save money in the long run.

"Grain producers currently manage populations by minimising the food source at harvest, and if populations require [it] zinc phosphide baits are used," Mr Perry said.

"However, using baits adds to input costs, it is not always readily available and there are limited windows to when this is effective."

Mr Perry said many farmers would be keen to see the technology in the near future.

"We are supportive of additional tools that help reduce introduced mouse populations — particularly when it involves local world-leading research at the University of Adelaide — which is targeted, reduces inputs and is sustainable."


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