A rare Australian marsupial is being genetically modified to save it from extinction. Here’s how

Scientists are trying to genetically 'edit' the endangered northern quoll to make it resistant to the neurotoxin of the invasive cane toad.

BY James Fair

Scientists say they are close to being able to genetically modify a rare Australian mammal to save it from going extinct as a result of the presence of the non-native cane toad.

The northern quoll, a small carnivorous marsupial weighing up to about 1kg and belonging to the same family as the Tasmanian devil, has suffered huge population declines and range decreases as a result of habitat loss and the impact of a whole range of introduced species.

But the cane toad, native to South and Central America and brought to Australia in the 1930s to deal with a sugar cane pest, is perhaps the quoll’s ultimate nemesis. Along with other members of the Bufonidae family, including the European common toad, cane toads possess a neurotoxin to which no Australian species has resistance because they evolved on a continent entirely free from this group of amphibians.

As a result, many species – not just northern quolls but native reptiles such as goannas and tiger snakes – frequently die when they predate on the toads, which are large and slow-moving animals, making them easy meals.

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