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We Just Scream Until They Go Away

Research teams in Australia and Texas tell MIT's Technology Review that they've engineered mice with so that, when introduced into the wild, they would reduce the local invasive rodent population and help protect seabirds.

Island Conservation, an organization that works on protecting seabirds from invasive species, including rodents, is leading this effort to develop gene drives for mammals. Typically, Tech Review notes that the group relies on poison to eliminate invasive rodents, but as such an approach isn't feasible for large islands or large populations, the group is turning to genetic engineering.

So far, researchers working with the group have used the CRISPR gene-editing approach to develop mice with genes that have an increased, nearly 100 percent chance, of being passed on to their offspring and have engineered mice so that they only have sons, which if passed on, would eventually lead the population to go extinct. The results, Tech Review notes, are so far preliminary.

Such an approach could be used in New Zealand, which has announced that it is working to be free of invasive species by 2050.

However, some conservationists tell Tech Review that the approach is risky and might not work. "I think there are actually a hell of a lot of things that could go wrong," University of Otago's Neill Gemmell says. "If you think you are just going to release things and they are going to eradicate for you, it's a big mistake."