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Gene drive: a potential new approach for an old biodiversity challenge

According to the recently released Thematic Assessment of Invasive Alien Species and their Control, produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), invasive alien species (IAS), including rodents, are implicated in a staggering 60% of documented global animal and plant extinctions. The future threat of invasive alien species is a major concern, especially with so many drivers of change predicted to worsen, including climate change. The IPBES report also highlights the generally insufficient measures in place to tackle these challenges.

Rodents, such as rats and mice, stand out as major culprits. Invasive mice are a significant cause of species extinctions globally and particularly threaten island ecosystems. Last year, researchers at the University of Adelaide associated with the Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents program (GBIRd), developed a world-first gene drive strategy to help control invasive mice. On October 31st, the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) and the University of Adelaide held a briefing to introduce guests to this breakthrough in gene drive technology, provided by Prof. Paul Thomas, University of Adelaide, who led the team involved in the research.

Seabirds, especially members of the albatross family are threatened by invasive alien species, including mice.

“These technologies have the potential to be a 21st century solution to the global extinction crisis”, asserts Prof. Thomas, in a new video released by CISS. The video underscores the adverse effects of invasive mice on native birds, animals, livestock and people, emphasizing the need for new and more humane approaches to control IAS. The technology – called t-CRISPR – is able to induce female infertility and thus reduce invasive mice populations, as detailed in this study, published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

The findings present promising prospects for gene drive technologies as a potential complementary tool which could help enhance the scale, scope, and pace of current interventions. Looking ahead, the research team is working closely with other GBIRd partners to lay the necessary groundwork to continue the research and future technology implementation. This includes working with communities to understand and address their views, perspectives and concerns.

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