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Using genomics data to control rats

Understanding the genetics of pests is crucial knowledge for controlling target pest species and creating a predator-free New Zealand by 2050. Genomics will therefore be a key technology for significant predators - New Zealand’s invasive rat species.

Genomics Aotearoa is collaborating with Predator Free 2050 Ltd, the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop underpinning genomic resources for New Zealand rats.

The partnership aims to produce a population genomics overview of both the ship rat (Rattus rattus, also known as the black rat) and the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus, also known as the brown rat). This work will provide essential genetic data and capability, which will in turn open the way for guiding current control approaches and supporting new technology development.

Norway rat

Photo: Norway rat, copyright © Rod Morris,

The ship rat sequencing work is being carried out with CSIRO in Australia. It’s also hoped that genomic sequencing will be carried out on kiore - New Zealand’s Polynesian rat, which is an important taonga species to some Māori groups. Should new technologies be applied to ship and Norway rats, this understanding will help to ensure that they don’t have unintended consequences for kiore.

The project has begun with Māori consultation on the kiore genome proposal. If granted permission by tangata whenua, researchers will then provide a high-quality annotated genome for a New Zealand kiore individual and a population genomics overview of the kiore population.

Postdoctoral fellows will be involved in the genome analysis and bioinformatics work, which will help New Zealand to build essential capability in this area.

Nick Kachel, Genomic breakthrough in invasive species management