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Birth control for rats – genius solution to a large problem

Posted April 13, 2017

Pests, such as rats, are known to cause many problems for large cities around the world. Nowadays they are not spreading plague, but they are still destroying infrastructure, spreading other diseases and infecting food supplies. But scientists think they may have a new effective idea how to combat them.

Often described as “New Yorker’s favourite pet” rats are spreading life-threatening diseases. Image credit: Ludovic Bertron via Wikimedia

Birth control for rats – that is that brilliant idea a company that can trace its roots to the University of Arizona came up with. Leptospirosis is a disease that is still costing lives in such places as New York city because of its rat problems. City is telling people to get rid of rats from their premises, as well as urges restaurants and other similar establishments to take control of rat infestation. In some cases, rats are being poisoned or controlled in other ways in sewage systems, subway tunnels and such, but some characteristics of this rodent allow it to survive everything.

In fact, killing a rat in not that hard, but because these rodents reproduce so quickly, population remains largely intact. Using massive amount of poison is not an option as it may found its way to food and water supplies of people. Now there is a solution – birth control for rats.

Targeting their main power is really all we can do at this point. ContraPest is a non-toxic fertility-control product, using a chemical known as 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide. It destroys female rats’ ovarian follicles in their most immature form. It also impairs sperm production in male rats, essentially making rat population decline over time. It works like birth control for rodents.

The ContraPest is actually appealing for rats, they like the taste of it because of added oil and sugar. Patricia Hoyer, University of Arizona professor, said: “The rats love it, and they remember it tastes good, so they go back for more. And people are crazy about this approach because it doesn’t kill the animal”. It is safe for people, pets and crops too, which makes it pest control with literally no disadvantages.

However, rats are incredibly fertile and quick to reproduce. Just four pairs of rats can give rise to 15 million offspring over the course of one year. This is especially big problem in developing world. While killing each and every rat is impossible, targeting their reproduction rates seems a better way to go.

It will take time until measures like ContraPest become global though. Success stories are still some time away, but if it works well in one city, more places would be interested in trying it out.


Source: University of Arizona

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