Biotech prospects for the control of introduced mammals in Australia

More than twenty exotic vertebrate species are now listed as pests in Australia. Collectively, these pests have a huge economic and environmental impact and pose a major threat to Australia’s ecosystems and unique biodiversity. Management of such pests on a continental scale is a major challenge. Recent advances in biotechnology suggest alternatives to the lethal diseases normally sought for use as biological control agents. One proposal, being investigated in the Pest Animal Control Cooperative Research Centre, Canberra, is the use of biotechnology to develop a new generation of agents that act through controlling reproduction to prevent the build up of pest populations. The core concept is fertility control through immunocontraceptive vaccines delivered by viruses that specifically infect the target pest population. Proof of this exciting concept has been obtained for the mouse and, very recently, the rabbit, and a candidate vaccine vector identified for the fox, portending better control of a trio of Australia’s most pervasive pests. Other advances in biotechnology suggest ways to negate the build up of both innate and acquired immune resistance in target pest populations that normally act to limit the efficacy and effective life of biocontrol agents in the field. Prospects for extending the use of virally vectored vaccines to the field management of wildlife diseases are also identified. Targets for such vaccines include a growing suite of emerging diseases, hosted by Australia’s wildlife, which pose a threat to human and livestock health. Numerous technical challenges remain to be addressed before any of these new agents are ready for use in the field. However, the major risk to their development is now no longer viewed as being technical, but the failure to gain public acceptance for their use in the field. This already significant risk is exasperated by the present heightened level of public concern about all introductions of genetically modified organisms.

Author Seamark, R. F.
Year 2001
Secondary title Reproduction, Fertility and Development
Volume 13
Number 8
Pages 705-711
Region Australia - national