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Scientists explore gene editing to manage invasive species

By on July 20, 2022 0

Posted by Cecilia Sequeira, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Animal Research and Science

Jul 20, 2022

In the United States, the environmental and economic costs caused by invasive species are estimated at more than $120 billion per year. Since invasive pests have few or no natural predators, they can spread rapidly and wipe out entire ecosystems by pushing out native species and reducing biological diversity. Once introduced, non-native insects can decimate crops and forests. Invasive rodents are also disruptive, especially in island ecosystems, where they are the main cause of plant and animal extinction. Pests and diseases of alien plants threaten food security, quality of life, and the economy of the United States.

To protect our vital resources from invasive species, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) scientists are working with state and national collaborators to develop solutions, leveraging the latest science and technologies, including genome editing. APHIS scientists are exploring the possibility of genetically modifying the traits of invasive species to manage their populations, control disease, create new tools for detecting plant pathogens, and more. These technologies are faster, cheaper and more precise than previous molecular tools, allowing scientists to target specific species and genes.

What’s on the horizon? Our researchers are investigating gene drive technology to promote same-sex offspring in invasive rodents. If successful, a modified rodent population that produces only male or female offspring would eventually reproduce in its final generation – without the use of chemical pesticides in an island ecosystem.

Will gene editing be the future of invasive pest control? Visit Solutions Through Science: Exploring Emerging Genetic Technologies or follow @USDA_APHIS on social media to learn more.

Category/Subject:
Animal research and science

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