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Possum scent, gene mapping could help eradication: study | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing


The days of brushtail possums sniggering in the backyard may be numbered in New Zealand, now that researchers have completed mapping the entire genetic code of the marsupial.

An international group of researchers, led by University of Otago anatomy department Associate Prof Tim Hore, have spent five years on the project, which also uncovered where and when the possum’s genes were expressed, and revealed surprising details about its population diversity, reproduction and origins.

Assoc Prof Hore said possums were polarising because they were loved and protected in Australia, and hunted as a pest in New Zealand.

“Having their full genetic code is important for both countries as efforts to manage their respective populations are being held back by the lack of this knowledge.

“In New Zealand, where the possum is a harmful introduced species, we can use the information to help guide control and eradication strategies, by tracking and monitoring target populations on the basis of their genes.

“But in the same way, our work will also be useful for its conservation in Australia, where it is a valued native species.”

A potential novel way to improve possum population management was also revealed by the DNA sequencing, based on chemical communication genes researchers discovered.

“Possums are nocturnal, so non-visual means of communication are really important.

“We uncovered possum genes responsible for carrying scent in urine, and found that although they are silenced in newborns, they are switched on in adults, particularly males.

“Molecules produced from these genes could be used to lure possums towards a trap or keep them away from pest-free areas,” he said.

Predator Free 2050 Limited science director Prof Dan Tompkins was excited about the research because it would help in the mission to eradicate possums and protect New Zealand’s native biodiversity.

“We are always on the lookout for more targeted, efficient and humane ways of getting the job done.

“Deciphering their genetic code provides us with an invaluable new knowledge base that underpins and enables exploration of a range of better approaches to do just that — from possum-species toxins to fertility control, and the exciting new ideas leveraging scent communication proposed here.”

The research studied possums collected from Otago Peninsula and other sites near Dunedin.

The possums were found to be genetic hybrids that could be traced back to discrete populations in Tasmania and the Australian mainland.

They were introduced in the late 1800s to establish a fur trade, but became serious pests, damaging many forest ecosystems and killing native birds and some insects.

As carriers of bovine tuberculosis, they also threaten biosecurity and trade, and the government spends more than $150 million a year controlling possum numbers.

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