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Australian Researchers Develop World-First Tech to Suppress Invasive Mice

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have released their first findings on the potential effectiveness of revolutionary gene drive technology to control invasive mice. The team has developed a world-first proof of concept for the technology – called t-CRISPR – using laboratory mice.

Using sophisticated computer modelling performed by co-first author Dr Aysegul Birand, the researchers also found about 250 gene-modified mice could eradicate an island population of 200,000 mice in around 20 years. The results of the study were recently published in the prestigious international journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

The lead researcher Professor Paul Thomas from the University of Adelaide, and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) stated that this is the first time that a new genetic tool has been identified to suppress invasive mouse populations by inducing female infertility.

The t-CRISPR approach uses cutting-edge DNA editing technology to make alterations to a female fertility gene. Once the population is saturated with genetic modification, all the females that are generated will be infertile. The team is also developing new versions of t-CRISPR technology that are designed to target specific pest populations to prevent the unwanted spread of the gene drive, the lead researcher said.

Post-graduate student Luke Gierus, a co-first author of the research paper, said t-CRISPR was the first genetic biocontrol tool for invasive mammals. He noted that until now, this technology has been aimed at insects to try and limit the spread of malaria, which causes up to 500,000 deaths worldwide per year.

The use of t-CRISPR technology provides a humane approach to controlling invasive mice without the release of toxins into the environment. The team is also working on strategies to prevent failed eradication due to the emergence of gene drive resistance in the target population.

The research team had worked closely with Australia’s National Science Agency CSIRO, the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, the Genetic Biocontrol for Invasive Rodents (GBIRd) consortium and the US Department of Agriculture to consider the next steps towards safely implementing the new technology. Their broader project includes consideration of societal views and attitudes and is integral to our ongoing research relating to this gene drive.

The CSIRO Group Leader for Environmental Mitigation and Resilience stated that this prototype has been designed to be highly specific for mice, but it is also evidence that gene drives can be developed against other invasive pest animals.

He noted that as part of this research, the safety assessments for this technology were conducted at the highest standards. Because this is the first prototype for a vertebrate gene drive, interested stakeholders will include many from the international community. The research was supported by the South Australian government and NSW government.

The South Australian Deputy Premier noted that the promising findings demonstrate how gene drive technology may be a game changer in managing the impacts of mice on Australia’s environment, community, and agricultural sector. She added that the cutting-edge research also highlights the global leadership of the South Australian research sector, in finding solutions to social, environmental and economic challenges.

The South Australian Government is proud to have supported this proof-of-concept, having granted the University of Adelaide AU$1 million through the Research and Innovation Fund.

The country is eager to be at the cutting edge of technology development. OpenGov Asia recently reported that firefighters will be better protected from exposure to dangerous carcinogens than ever before with Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) rolling out world-leading decontamination technology and new fire station designs.

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