new approach to pest control involving introducing ''trojan
females'' into animal populations could be a
''game-changer'', a University of Otago researcher says.
Researchers from Otago University, the University of Western
Australia, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Landcare
Research last week published findings about the proposed
technique, which involved introducing into pest populations
''trojan females'' with mutations that meant they produced
sterile male offspring.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the
Royal Society B, said the technique harnessed naturally
occurring mutations that reduced male fertility while having
little or no impact on females.
The study's lead author, Prof Neil Gemmell, from Otago
University, said the technique could be a ''game-changer'' in
reducing the global impact of pests in a non-lethal way.
''Conventional approaches to pest management usually involve
lethal control, but such approaches are costly, of varying
efficiency, and often have ethical issues,'' Prof Gemmell
The technique could be used across a broad range of pest
species, including rats and disease-carrying insects such as
mosquitoes. This meant the technique had the potential to be
''pretty close'' to a ''silver bullet'' when it came to pest
Positives of the technique included the fact it was
reversible and it did not require genetic modification, with
the mutation occurring naturally, Prof Gemmell said.
The technique required breeding females with the mutation in
captivity and releasing them into wild populations.
The researchers were now working on putting the theory into
practice, with the Ministry for Business Innovation and
Employment (MBIE) providing a $1 million grant to develop a
proof of concept.
The benefits of the technique had the potential to be huge,
with malaria killing more than one million people each year
and rats estimated to spoil or damage up to 17% of food
production in some countries.
The leader of the MBIE project, Dr Dan Tompkins, of Landcare
Research, said once the concept had been proved in the lab,
it would seek to apply the technology as soon as possible.
''We will be looking to rapidly apply this new technology
platform to the benefit of agriculture, human health and
biodiversity, both within New Zealand and globally,'' Dr