The world’s first technology to suppress invading mice

University of Adelaide researchers have released their first findings on the potential effectiveness of a revolutionary gene drive technology for controlling invasive mice.

The team used laboratory mice to develop a world-first proof-of-concept of the technology — called t-CRISPR.

Using sophisticated computer models performed by co-first author Dr. Aysegul Birand, the researchers also found that about 250 genetically modified mice could wipe out 200,000 mice on the island in about 20 years.

The findings were published today in the prestigious international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead researcher Professor Paul Thomas, from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), said: “This is the first discovery of a new genetic tool to suppress invasive mouse populations by inducing female sterility .”

“The t-CRISPR method uses cutting-edge DNA editing technology to alter the reproductive genes of females. Once the population is saturated with genetic modification, all the resulting females will be sterile.

“We are also developing new versions of t-CRISPR technology designed to target specific pest populations to prevent unwanted spread of gene drives.”

According to graduate student Luke Gierus, co-first author of the research paper, t-CRISPR is the first genetic biological control tool for invasive mammals.

“So far, this technology has targeted insects in an attempt to limit the spread of malaria, which kills as many as 500,000 people globally each year,” Mr Gierus said.

“The use of t-CRISPR technology provides a humane approach to control invasive mice without releasing toxins into the environment. We are also developing strategies to prevent eradication due to gene drive resistance in the target population fail.”

“This is the first time a new genetic tool has been identified to suppress invasive mouse populations by inducing female sterility.” Principal Investigator Professor Paul Thomas from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Institute of Health and Medical Research (SAHMRI).

Professor Thomas said the research team was working closely with Australia’s National Science Service CSIRO, the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, the Genetic Biological Control of Invasive Rodents (GBIRd) Consortium and the USDA to consider the next steps to safely implement the new technology.

“Our broader project includes consideration of social perspectives and attitudes, and is an integral part of our ongoing research related to this gene drive,” Professor Thomas said.

Dr Owain Edwards, head of CSIRO’s Environmental Mitigation and Resilience Group, added: “This particular prototype was designed to be highly specific to mice, but it also demonstrates that gene drives can be developed against other invasive pest animals.

“As part of this research, we have conducted a safety assessment of this technology to the highest standards. Because this is the first prototype of a vertebrate gene drive, interested stakeholders will include many from the international community.”

The research was supported by the South Australian and New South Wales Governments.

Deputy Prime Minister of South Australia Hon. Dr Susan Close MP said: “These promising findings suggest that gene drive technology could be a game-changer in managing the impact of mice on our environment, communities and agricultural sectors.

“This cutting-edge research also highlights the global leadership of South Australia’s research sector in finding solutions to social, environmental and economic challenges.

“The South Australian Government is proud to support this proof-of-concept with a $1 million grant to the University of Adelaide through the Research and Innovation Fund.”

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