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Delivering biocontrol agents to possums

Here, we describe transmissible and non-transmissible methods for delivering biocontrol agents to possums.

Scientists in New Zealand are developing a range of biocontrol agents to reduce possum numbers, because possums are a pest. Biocontrol agents may be toxins or vaccines against specific possum proteins involved in reproduction.

Delivering the biocontrol agent to possums is difficult because most possums live in dense bush or mountainous areas, which are not easily accessible.

Transmissible versus non-transmissible delivery

Transmissible delivery systems spread through the possum population, whereas non-transmissible delivery systems do not spread.

Transmissible delivery systems include:

Get information sheet: Biological control of possums

Advantages

Transmissible delivery systems are expensive and time-consuming to develop, but ultimately they are cheaper and more cost effective to deliver, because they only have to be introduced once (or very few times) and will spread through the possum population.

Disadvantages

Transmissible delivery systems are not as easy to control. If adverse effects occur, for example, the organism mutates or ceases to be effective, it will be difficult to remove the transmissible agent from the environment.

Non-transmissible delivery systems include:

  • baits, which can be dropped from the air or used in bait stations on the ground
  • aerosols, which spray the biocontrol agent into the possum’s nose or eyes
  • transgenic plantsgenetically modified plants that produce the biocontrol agent in their leaves or fruit. The plants could be fed directly to the possums or the biocontrol agent could be purified from the plant and made into a bait that is delivered to the possums. No research on transgenic plants is currently being done.

Advantages

Non-transmissible delivery systems are under our control. We can target where and when to apply the delivery. If adverse effects occur, delivery can be stopped.

Disadvantages

Non-transmissible delivery systems are expensive, labour-intensive and time-consuming. Repeat applications of the toxin or vaccine are needed to ensure all the possums in a population are treated.

Genetically modified organisms and biocontrol

Biocontrol agents that use genetically modified organisms (GMOs), like the parasitic worm, are being studied. GMOs may be delivered by transmissible or non-transmissible delivery system. However, some people oppose the use of GMOs in New Zealand.

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