Genetic Pest Management Technologies to Control Invasive Rodents

Many strategies exist to manage invasive pests on islands, ranging from poison to trapping, with varying degrees of success. Genetic technologies are increasingly being applied to insect pests, but so far, not to vertebrates. We are implementing a genetic strategy to eradicate invasive mouse populations as another tool for pest control.

Mus musculus, the common house mouse, is one of the most widespread invasive species. Mice threaten human health, agriculture, and biodiversity on many islands, particularly seabirds. Seabirds are endangered indirectly through competition of resources or predators being attracted by the mice or directly with mice attacking chicks and eggs. Rodenticides are the most common method of eradicating mice, but their use leads to poisoning of non-target species and has limited efficacy against mice. An approach that could eliminate non-target species impact would be to engineer daughterless mice linked to a gene drive system for self-sustained propagation. For this project, we have investigated exploiting a naturally occurring gene drive, the t-complex. Using the tw2 haplotype of the t-complex, we observed the tw2 haplotype being transmitted to offspring with a transmission distortion ratio of 95.3%.

The daughterless phenotype is being accomplished by inserting the Sry gene (male sex-determining gene) into an autosome containing the tw2 haplotype via CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. The presence of Sry will induce testis formation, regardless of the sex chromosomes naturally inherited. When Sry is inserted into the t-complex, the desired gene will spread through the population, eliminating female offspring. This model system will support studies to evaluate the effectiveness of crashing an invasive population without adversely affecting other species. While still in the beginning stages, this is a novel idea and once this method has been perfected, it will open the way to use this genetic strategy for the eradication of other invasive mammal species.