Research under the NSW Government’s mouse control package takes a step in the right direction
New breakthrough genetic biocontrol research could transform Australia’s pest management for good. As parts of regional and rural NSW continue to battle the mouse plague, a $1.8 million dollar investment into genetic technology could prove crucial for the future of these communities.
Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said the NSW Government’s $50 million mouse control package supported a range of measures, “not only to mitigate the impacts of the mice currently crawling across so much of NSW, but also to create options to ensure we reduce the impact of future population spikes”.
“Mice arrived in Australia with the first fleet and from then until now the best control methods we have been able to come up with have been baiting and trapping. There has to be a better way,” said Mr Marshall.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment Australia has experienced mice plagues roughly every four years since the 1870’s and that this is not a new phenomenon.
Animal ecologist and researcher Alexandra Carthey, said mouse plagues are usually preceded by years of drought. ‘Drought breaking’ rain leading to sprouting pastures encourages mice and their biology to ramp up their breeding, extend their breeding season, have larger litters, and take advantage of the prosperous conditions.
Now is the time to plague-proof ourselves for the future.
“That’s why we’re backing science to deliver a solution,” said Mr Marshall.
“Using targeted gene drives, scientists aim to interrupt the breeding cycle of mice and keep populations at manageable levels”.
The state funded three-year genetic biocontrol research program will work to identify fast acting gene drives which are designed to spread a characteristic through a population. In short, the two scientific strategies used aim to eliminate sperm from male mice and sustain infertility in female mice.
Lead researcher Professor Paul Thomas from the University of Adelaide says both approaches have been shown to effectively suppress mice using sophisticated computer simulations.
“The genetic biocontrol technologies that we are developing offer a humane approach to control invasive rodents,” Prof Thomas said.
“We are also developing technology to limit their spread so we can specifically target the pest population.”
Adam Marshall said the technology could be used to minimise other pest species such as black rats, rabbits, and feral cats.
“The potential to transfer those solutions to other species such as rats, rabbits and feral cats means pest management in NSW and across Australia could be changed forever” said Mr Marshall.
The research is to be led by the University of Adelaide, CSIRO and The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.
The NSW Government is currently awaiting approval from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for the use of bromadiolone as a perimeter bait to combat mice. If approved, it will be offered free of charge to farmers across 20 Local Land Services bait treatment stations within days of approval.
Bromadiolone is designed to be used in conjunction with in-crop baiting using zinc phosphide bait products.
Many eco advocates are concerned about the implications on native wildlife if, and when, bromadiolone is approved.