A natural gene drive could steer invasive rodents on islands to extinction

B. Brookshire,  ScienceNews,  2022.

In the battle against the invasive house mouse on islands, scientists are using the rodent’s own genes against it. With the right tweaks, introducing a few hundred genetically altered mice could drive an island’s invasive mouse population to extinction in about 25 years, researchers report in the Nov. 15 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The trick is adding the changes to a section of mouse DNA that gets inherited far more often than it should. Scientists have been creating similar extra-inheritable genes — called gene drives — in the lab. The chunks are designed to get passed on to most or all of an animal’s offspring instead of the usual half, and make those offspring infertile in the bargain. Scientists have used gene drives to reduce populations of mosquitoes and fruit flies (SN: 12/17/18). But mammals are a different story. Scientists have previously synthesized a gene drive that gets passed on in mice about 80 percent of the time (SN: 1/23/19). But the drive isn’t strong enough to stop a population quickly. Luckily, nature has it handled. A haplotype is a naturally occurring group of genes that gets passed on as a unit during replication. The genome of the house mouse (Mus musculus) has a particular haplotype, called the t haplotype, that gets passed on to offspring more than 95 percent of the time, instead of the typical 50 percent.

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