Mutant Rats! Well, that’s not some new Hollywood comic movie you should expect. It is rather something real that scientists are in the process of creating as an answer to rodent problem that UK is facing. The team of scientists who are trying to genetically engineer rats are from Scotland.
So, what will these mutant rats do?
No, the mutant rats in question are not shape-shifting creatures. They do not have claws like Wolverine and neither can they control mind or metal. They cannot suck life out of other rodents by a deadly touch and nor can then create fire or ice at whim. They are not the type of mutants you saw in X-Men movie series.
According to The Roslin Institute’s Professor Bruce Whitelaw, the scientists are using what is known as CRISPR/ Cas 9 DNA editing – a very ‘humane technique’ to edit the DNA of the rats. They have named it as X-Shredding. Well, the name doesn’t sound very humane though.
What the scientists are trying to do is they are going back to basic biology. We know today that female mammals have XX chromosome while male mammals have XY chromosomes. When a male passes X chromosome to a female, the offspring is female. When the male passes Y chromosome to the female, the offspring is a male.
The X-Shredding is a method in which a code will be installed in male rats. This code will destroy the X chromosome in the sperm of the males and leave behind only the Y chromosome. So, when these male rats get intimate with the females, they will pass only and only Y chromosome. The result will be that only male offspring will be produced.
So, with fewer and fewer number of female rats, the rodent population will dwindle down and voila! Pest Control will be achieved.
Is pest control through mutant rats humane?
Hell yes (at least as per the scientists). The other methods that are used today are inhumane (according to scientists). Poisoning, traps and shooting are definitely not humane because they are mostly gory. X-Shredding on the other hand is just gory by name. All the shredding and destroying thing takes place in DNA level and we can’t even witness or even know what is happening.
More importantly, X-Shredding will not sterilize the male vermins. They will still have the ability to breed and enjoy the pleasures of a cozy coitus. So yes, the scientists are intelligent. They will not strip the vermins of their life or carnal pleasures. They will only ‘naturally’ (if at all) annihilate the females. That’s gender-biased vermin genocide!
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Consequences of having mutant rats around?
You know what? Devil is omnipresent. So, mutant rats through X-Shredding may not sound that awful but there may be consequences and we just cannot ignore the possible bad outcomes. For instance, no one knows what will happen when these mutant rats get eaten up by predators like some birds. There may be unforeseen ecological consequences.
Such unforeseen ecological consequences can also pop-up when one species-specific mutant rat manages to infiltrate another species and impregnates a female there. The end result may or may not be disastrous and no one can say what really will happen then.
To counter this problem, the team of scientists are actually working on a few solutions that don’t really sound foolproof for now. For instance, Gus McFarlane – the doctoral student and also the lead scientists of X-Shredding project – says that the species-specific mutant rats may put on specific islands, restricting their migration from one place to another or from one country to another. They (the scientists) are also working on some self-destructive genes that, over generations, lose their power.
There’s a catch. “The self-destructive genes lose their power over generations”. What happens if the so-called island-restriction is breached by a mutant vermin and it mates with another species before the self-destructive gene destructs itself? That question remains unanswered for now.
Why the need for mutant rats in the first place?
The Roslin Institute released a Press Release in which it was said that UK spends a total of £1.2 billion each and every year on pest control. The only problem is that the money is just being thrown in the drain because the current pest control measures are just not working as per all citizens of Britain. It is today estimated that the total number of rats or rodents in UK is a staggering 10 million and not just that, there has been a 10% spike in vermin count in London last year. So yes, the X-Shredding for now looks pretty noble program minus the part which says ‘unforeseen ecological consequences’.
- Did You Know Roslin Institute is actually a part of the University of Edinburgh? It is a research wing that deals with animal science.
- Did You Know Roslin Institute is where Dolly was cloned? Dolly was a sheep.