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The potential to make a difference in New Zealand pest control

Genetic-based tools are providing PF2050 with potential to explore alternative control methods for the most challenging species for New Zealand to eradicate – the rat.

A multi-agency team co-ordinated by Genomics Aotearoa is exploring the rapidly advancing science of genetic-based control for developing crucial new rat suppression technology.  This is a crucial collaboration, given New Zealand’s current approaches are insufficient to achieve PF2050 rat eradication targets.

The planned research is based on recent breakthroughs in developing rodents that produce only one sex in their offspring. It will build on the first ship rat genome already sequenced by New Zealand researchers with support from the first Predator Free 2050 Ltd Research Strategy (2017-20)

The tactical genetic pest control project has three key high-level aims designed to suppress small rat populations in containment:

  1. Developing a transgenic Norway rat suppression system, in containment, that demonstrates proof of concept of the single-sex offspring suppression approach. This will be led by AgResearch.
  2. Developing genomic datasets that allow an understanding of gene flow in Norway and Ship Rat populations in New Zealand, with an emphasis on determining population structure, how best to introduce suppression rats to a population, and other key considerations for genetic control application. This will be led by University of Otago, with support from Plant & Food Research. 
  3. Assessing attitudes to the single-sex offspring suppression approach, with particular emphasis on understanding relevant Mātauranga Māori, identifying concerns that could be mitigated in the development process, and finally likelihood of support for this technology when developed.  This will be led by Victoria University Wellington.
Norway rat

Photo: Norway rat, copyright © Rod Morris,

Genomics Aotearoa Director Professor Peter Dearden says the partnership will address critical technological knowledge gaps while also contributing to social and cultural understanding. 

“This first step will not only provide a much-needed additional approach for rat eradication at scale, but one that is also an alternative to toxins used in pest control, with less animal welfare impact on populations than traditional predator control approaches,” he said.

“It’s an exciting project; one that will make a real difference in invasive pest species control for New Zealand.”

Predator Free 2050 Limited

The project is one of six being funded by Predator Free 2050 Limited (PF2050 Ltd) aimed at enabling the Predator Free 2050 mission to eradicate invasive rats, stoats and possums from the whole of New Zealand, to help reverse the decline in our native biodiversity. Read more here