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Scientists Explore Gene Editing to Manage Invasive Species

Posted by Cecilia Sequeira, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Animals Research and Science
Jul 20, 2022
A scientist looks through a microscope in a laboratory. The slide she is observing is magnified on the monitor beside her

In the U.S., the environmental and economic costs caused by invasive species are estimated to exceed $120 billion per year. Since invasive pests have few or no natural predators, they can quickly spread, and throw off entire ecosystems by pushing out native species and reducing biological diversity. Once introduced, non-native insects can decimate crops and forests. Invasive rodents are also disruptive—particularly on island ecosystems, where they are the leading cause of plant and animal extinctions. Exotic plant pests and diseases threaten U.S. food security, quality of life, and the economy.

To protect our vital resources from invasive species, scientists from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) work with States and nationwide cooperators to develop solutions, leveraging the latest science and technology—including genome editing. APHIS scientists are exploring the feasibility of genetically modifying traits in invasive species to manage their populations, control diseases, create new detection tools for plant pathogens and more. These technologies are faster, cheaper, and more accurate than previous molecular tools—allowing scientists to target specific species and genes.

What is on the horizon? Our researchers are studying gene-drive technology to promote single-sex offspring in invasive rodents. If successful, a modified rodent population that only produces male or female offspring would eventually breed itself into its last generation -- without the use of chemical pesticides in an island ecosystem.

Will gene editing be the future of invasive pest management? Visit Solutions Through Science: Exploring Emerging Genetic Technologies or follow @USDA_APHIS on social media to learn more.

Category/Topic: Animals Research and Science