An extinction plot to ‘breed out’ female rodents will be fast-tracked in a desperate bid to curb the terrifying mouse plague causing widespread havoc across regional New South Wales.
The state government will pour $1.8million into a three-year gene editing research program which aims to breed more male than female mice through a ‘X-Shredder’ approach or alternatively, make female rodents infertile.
The news comes after the shocking mathematics behind the lifecycle of mice was summed up in a graphic, showing just two rodents can spawn a colony of hundreds of thousands within month which can blow out to millions in just over a year in ideal conditions.
New cutting edge research at University of Adelaide aims to find a way for mice to breed themselves to extinction.
An extinction plot to ‘breed out’ female rodents aimed to curb NSW’s mouse plague is underway. Pictured are dozens of mice in Tottenham in central-west NSW
One strategy called the ‘X-Shredder’ approach aims to eliminate sperm carrying the X chromosome, so mice breed more males than females, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The other approach would involve genetic modification to make female mice infertile.
‘Cutting edge solutions like these mean future mouse plagues can be extinguished before they begin,’ NSW agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said.
‘Using targeted gene drives, scientists aim to interrupt the breeding cycle of mice and keep populations at manageable levels.’
Still in its early stages, the research could be used a decade from now to prevent mouse plagues in the future.
It’s also hoped the technology can also be used on other pests like rats, rabbits, and feral cats, which would change pest management forever.
‘What we’re trying to do really is a proof of concept for the technology to see if we can get it working in a laboratory setting,’ University of Adelaide Professor Paul Thomas told the publication.
The NSW government will invest in a three-year gene editing research program as the state battles a statewide mouse plague (pictured, mice in Gunnedah, NSW)
The lifecycle of mice is one of the main reasons the mouse plague inundating Australia’s eastern states is so terrifying.
The common mouse can live for up to two or three years – but female mice start reproducing at just six weeks of age.
Three weeks later they can give birth to ten youngsters, while the mother can potentially get pregnant again the very next day
If half of every litter is female – who will be mature enough to reproduce just six weeks later – those two original mice will have sparked of colony of almost 2,000 mice within five months.
And then, in an ideal mouse world, the exponential growth really takes off.
A few weeks later, there will be tens of thousands – and then potentially hundreds of thousands before the numbers get truly mind-blowing.
Unchecked, they could hit 1.5 million within a year – and mathematicians predict a rampant colony can then effectively double in size every three weeks from then on.
The shocking mathematics behind the lifecycle of mice is one of the main reasons the mouse plague inundating Australia’s eastern states is so terrifying.
The only thing stopping the plague would be a lack of food and predators – but the recent perfect Australian farming weather has meant there’s no shortage of food.
And predators have so far been unable to keep pace with the mouse population boom, but coming cold wet winter weather could at least slow down the onslaught.
The NSW government is also looking at a previously banned chemical, dubbed ‘napalm for mice’, in a bid to wipe out the mouse menace.
Under increasing pressure over the plague that has tormented regional communities for eight months, the state government has secured 5,000 litres of the super deadly rodent poison bromadiolone.
Currently banned for agricultural use in Australia, the state has offered to provide it for free if the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority approves it.
When announcing the measure, part of a $50million government package to deal with the outbreak, Mr Marshall said the poison would be ‘the equivalent of napalming mice’ across the affected regions.
Research conducted at the university found high levels of the poison in owls and snakes across Perth, where bromadiolone is approved for use in residential settings.
‘That sort of raised alarm bells,’ Dr Davis said. ‘This is potentially spreading through the whole food chain when we use these products.’
Pictured are mice scurrying around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham in central-west NSW
Research conducted at the university found high levels of the poison in owls and snakes across Perth, where bromadiolone is approved for use in residential settings
If the poison is used, he says it could set up even more favourable conditions for the next mouse plague.
‘You could be seeing agriculture landscapes without owls, kites, snakes and goannas for a long time to come.
‘We could lose all our natural pest control.’
NSW Farmers is calling for primary producers to get a 50 per cent rebate on zinc phosphide, an alternative poison, instead.
Dr Davis agrees it is the ‘better of the two evils’.
NSW Farmers is calling for primary producers to get a 50 per cent rebate on zinc phosphide instead of the more controversial but effective bromadiolone (Stock image)
‘There would be no other country in the western world that would approve this use of bromadiolone.’
If approved by the APVMA, it will be the first time bromadiolone is permitted for this use in Australia since 2016.
Farmers fear the out-of-control mouse plague could last for up to two years if urgent drastic action is not taken.
Xavier Martin, the vice president of NSW Farmers, said growers are now abandoning paddocks to the mouse hoard, fearing that crops sown there over the winter will be devoured before they can be harvested.
‘Without a concerted baiting effort in the next few weeks, this could easily turn into a two-year plague event,’ Mr Martin warned.