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9-Misc: Australian scientists plan to release GE mouse virus

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Virus may stop mice plagues
SOURCE: Australian Associated Press/The Sunday Mail, Australia,5936,
DATE:   Apr 2, 2003

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Virus may stop mice plagues

AMOROUS mice could unwittingly wipe out costly plagues of the rodents
under world-first plans by Australian scientists.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Pest Control is seeking approval to
trial a genetically modified mouse herpes virus.

It aims to spread the virus throughout the exotic mice populations of
Australia which, when they reach plague proportions, cost the nation's
grain farmers about $150 million.

Centre director Tony Peacock said the virus worked extremely well in
laboratory tests, with mice passing the virus from one animal to the next.

The virus makes female mice infertile by blocking sperm entering their eggs.

Dr Peacock said in the wild the virus should work even better, because
mice interacted more often.

He said there could be enormous savings for the nation's grains industry
if the virus is found to be viable and safe in the wild.

"Australia is about the only country in the world where we get mouse
plagues, and when they happen, they cause a lot of damage," he said.

"Plagues are becoming more common, and if we can stop them this way then
we will be helping farmers."

The drought has knocked down mice numbers in the past 12 months, but a
small plague was recorded last year on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

Dr Peacock said the virus specifically targeted introduced species of
mice, and should not affect native mice.

He said research was also starting on a genetically altered virus that
would target rodents.

This could have huge repercussions for areas where rats compete with
people for food.

"In Asia, rats eat around $US9 billion ($14.94 billion) worth of rice a
year, which is about the same that Indonesia uses," he said.

"If we can get a virus that works on rats as well, then we have a chance
of really making some inroads into a major environmental and human problem."

The centre is now waiting formal approval from the Office of the Gene
Technology Regulator to undertake controlled field trials.

The trials will most likely take place in north-western Victoria or

The centre believes it will cost another $15 million to $20 million in
testing and trials before the virus is judged safe and effective for
general release.