ScienceDaily: Gene drives are not the solution for everyone — they’re not one-size fits all.

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Invasive alien mammals can have devastating effects on native flora or fauna, causing species extinctions as well as causing profound environmental change. Traditional methods like poison baiting, trapping or hunting are not practical on a large scale. Researchers are therefore looking for alternative options.

CRISPR-based genome editing is often regarded as a “silver bullet,” for pest control. Although there is increasing interest in developing this technology to control invasive mammals such as rats, mice and feral cats, the studies have so far been limited to mice.

Scientists are pondering whether genome editing technology could be used to eradicate larger mammals and, if so how long it would take.

A team of researchers from University of Adelaide created a mathematical model capable of simulating the effects of gene drives on mammal population at a landscape level to answer these questions. Open-access publication NeoBiotaTheir study was published in the journal. It is the first time that it has been estimated how long it would take to eliminate long-lived alien mammals.

CRISPR/Cas9 technology allows for a simulated gene drive to be used. The “molecular scissors”, which are placed into the Ychromosome, target and cut up the Xchromosome during meiosis. This ensures that only functional Ychromosome-carrying sperms can successfully fertilize the egg. The drive-carrying males will only produce sons with the molecular cutters on their Ychromosome. The population will decrease as females become less common and produce fewer offspring over the course of multiple generations.

The “X-shredder” drive has been successfuly developed and has been shown to suppress the cage population of malaria-carrying insects. However, this drive has not yet been applied in mammals. Although the model suggests that the X–shredder drive can be used to eradicate red foxes and other wildlife on a large scale, the likelihood of success and time required for it to work are very different.

Researchers examined the potential of the X–shredder drive for eliminating a population of 200,000 of each species. They concluded that CRISPR based gene drives are novel ways to control invasive alien species. These could potentially extend eradication efforts to continental levels.

It could work for small-sized pests like rodents or rabbits. The average time it takes to eliminate mice is 18 years, rats are 19 years, and rabbits are 48 years. 90% of the population suppression can also be achieved within that period.

However, these results indicate that gene drives might not be an all-purpose solution.

Dr. Aysegulbirand, a member of the research team, says that gene drives have a 50-50 chance of eliminating feral cats. If the coin falls on the right side of the coin, it will take approximately 140 years to eradicate them. “The probability that foxes will be eradicated is greater, but the wait is longer.”

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