Eradicating exotic pests with ‘infertility genes’ may be possible — ScienceDaily

University of Adelaide researchers have shown that it may be possible to eradicate populations of invasive pest animals through the inheritance of a negative gene — a technique known as gene drive.

Invasive pests cost agricultural industries around the world hundreds of millions of dollars and are a major threat to biodiversity and the environment. Spreading deleterious genes (such as genes causing sterility) through pest populations using gene-drive technology is viewed as a potential ‘silver bullet’ for conservation science and agriculture. The technology could also be applied for public health benefit, to control the spread of diseases by animals such as mosquitoes.

The University of Adelaide researchers developed a realistic mathematical model to predict whether gene drives could be used to eradicate populations of invasive mice from islands. Islands would be the most likely testing grounds for gene drives, to minimise the risk of spread to non-target populations.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers showed by computer simulation that a single introduction of 100 mice carrying a gene drive causing sterility could eradicate an island mouse population of 50,000 individuals within 4 to 5 years.

“If viable, this technology offers a humane, targeted solution for invasive species control. This could complement or even replace traditional control methods such as culling, trapping and poison baiting, as well as more advanced biocontrols such as rabbit haemorrhagic disease,” says lead author and mathematical ecologist Dr Thomas Prowse, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Mathematical Sciences.

“Our paper indicates that controlling invasive pest populations using gene drives may be feasible, but certainly the hype around this new technology is still some way ahead of the science.”

The researchers found a way to defeat the evolution of resistant genes which could thwart the use of this technique for…

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