CANBERRA, Aug. 9 — Two separate studies undertaken by scientists in Australia have come up with new ways to deal with the eradication of pests such as feral pigs, rabbits, and mice, which cost the local agricultural economy more than one billion Australian dollars (USD 800 million) every year.
Researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has developed a technology-based system whereby pests get scared away from crucial agriculture, while in a separate development, researchers from the University of Adelaide attacked the problem using complex genetic development.
CSIRO scientist Dr. Ash Tews said that the trials of autonomous Vertebrate Pest Detect-and-Deter (VPDaD) technology are underway, which uses a series of sensor-driven lights and sounds to prevent pests from causing damage.
“One of the interesting issues with existing deterrent technologies is that, not only do animals become desensitized to them, but smarter ones can even learn to use the deterrents as an indication of a food source, which is the opposite of their purpose,” Tews was quoted in a CSIRO press release published on Wednesday.
The autonomous technology CSIRO scientists developed allows the system to recognize animal behaviors in response to deterrents and modify the deterrent strategy until the desired effect is achieved.
“This allows the system to be more effective over long periods of time such as the key threat times during crop growing.”
Tews said while the technology was only in a testing phase, ultimately the CSIRO wants to “scale-up the technology and roll it out across Australia”.
And while the CSIRO has been busy implementing technology in the fight against invasive and damaging pest species, scientists at the University of Adelaide in South Australia believe they may soon be able to eradicate pests by implanting them with “infertility genes”.
According to the university’s mathematical ecologist, Dr. Thomas Prowse, researchers could use a process called gene drive to cause an inheritance of a gene which would render pests, such as mice, infertile.
In a press release also published on Wednesday, Prowse said that if 100 “infected” mice were released on, for example, an island of 50,000 mice, they would be eradicated within five years.
“If viable, this technology offers a humane, targeted solution for invasive species control,” Prowse said.
“This could complement or even replace traditional control methods such as culling, trapping, and poison baiting, as well as more advanced bio controls such as rabbit hemorrhagic disease.”
The research 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.
Prowse’s colleague and molecular geneticist at the university, Professor Paul Thomas said that new “CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology” was responsible for the breakthrough.
“(This new) gene editing technology enables the gene drive to replicate itself during egg and sperm production this ensures that it is passed on to the next generation and ultimately results in spread through the entire population,” Thomas said in the press release.
“Our results indicate that placing the gene drive in a fertility or viability gene will eventually cause the population to crash.”
He said there was still lab work to be conducted to ensure the process of gene driving works, implementation of such a plan was still some time away.
“The next necessary step will be the development of gene drives in laboratory mice under secure conditions to enable improved modeling of this potential for pest eradication,” he said.
“This will provide the critical data needed to debate the important questions that remain around biosecurity, regulation, and ethics.”