Britain might willingly surrender itself to domination by mutant rats

(Image credit: Getty Images)

British scientists have proposed introducing mutant lab rats into the wild rodent populations tormenting Londoners as a means of pest control, The Telegraph reports. Despite similar schemes leading to Attack of the Giant, Mutant Rats in 99 percent of fictional cases, the real world science involves genetically "editing" rodents so that they simply cannot have female offspring:

The technique suggested for rodents is known as "x-shredding." Male mammals have both an "x" and "y" sex chromosome, while females need two "x" chromosomes.The scientists want to insert "x shredder" code into the DNA of male rats which would destroy the "x" chromosomes in their sperm, meaning they could only pass on a "y" chromosome, so their offspring would never be female. With fewer and fewer females over time, the population would have to decline. [The Telegraph]

The genetically modified lab rats could then be released into the wild, where they would pass their edited genes on to future generations. The so-called "Crispr" technology, which is also being tested with mosquito populations, works even better than toxins, since some rats are already becoming poison-resistant.

Edinburgh University doctoral student Gus McFarlane admitted that while Attack of the Giant, Mutant Rats is far from a sure thing, there could be complications. "One of the biggest risks that we're worried about is it if it were to be deployed, we target an animal and it spreads to a non-targeted individual," McFarlane told The Telegraph. "So you target a rat in New Zealand and it makes its way to Asia where it could have unforeseen ecological consequences. But there are mitigation strategies that we could implement if this were to occur."

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.