The development of a new genetic system called the ’Trojan Female Technique” (TFT) will make it possible to tackle certain pest control problems and to use them to make NZ pest-free.
What is the Trojan Female Technique?
‘Trojan females’ carry mutations in their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that affect male, but not female reproductive fitness. They reproduce more female Trojan descendants and sterile males. From modeling, single large releases and relatively few small repeat releases of Trojan females can provide effective and persistent control within relatively few generations. They are also effective even when pest numbers are low.
A world-first proof-of-concept was reported in a recent paper published in eLife by Professor Gemmell and his colleagues of the Anatomy Department, University of Otago.
Prof Gemmell said that the Trojan female technique has several advantages in that it does not require elaborate genetic techniques, delivery systems, special vectors or intermediate hosts. Also it was ‘natura’l and species-specific. It would be possible to carry out experiments in controlled enclosures or small islands to ensure that there is no harm to other wildlife.
In 2016 the Department of Conservation has set a target for New Zealand to become pest free by 2050. This includes mice, rats, stoats, rabbits and possums. This is very unlikely to be achieved using the conventional methods of poisons, diseases, traps, shooting or other such methods.
For more about genetic tools for a pest-free NZ, see previous post on CRISPR.