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    Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 27 November 2007 Referencing Hub media

    Scientists are exploring a new method of controlling possums using worms that naturally infect them.


    Barbara Ryan: Our scientists are working on a new idea. Thank you, Supervader. I wonder what Supervader has given me here?

    Student: Is it a rope?

    Barbara Ryan: It kind of looks like one, but it’s a bit more living than a rope.

    Student: Is it bacteria

    Barbara Ryan: No, it’s a tiny little worm that actually lives inside the possum’s intestine. When it grows to adult size it’s one centimetre long - so one centimetre - it’s pretty tiny as an adult. Otherwise you can hardly even see it. So scientists have got these worms in laboratories and they breed them, and then they genetically modify them.

    This bit here, that green colour there, is a needle going into the worm. And scientists inject foreign DNA into the worm and that makes the worm produce a toxin, or some chemicals. There’s a scientist with his microscope and he looks through that and he puts the needle into the ovaries of the worm, where he puts the DNA. And then the worm produces the chemicals. Then they put them back into the possum and that chemical goes into the possum and stops the possum from having babies.

    It doesn't kill the possum. So that means the possum can live its whole life. It’s not hurt. But it won’t produce any babies, so that will really reduce the population of possums. One way of testing is to get the possum’s wee, and that [picture] is collecting possum wee. And they get that and then they have a look at the wee to see if the possum is able to produce babies or not. That’s how they check it.