Proof of concept for genetic biocontrol in vertebrates


Gene drives, based on the “CRISPR/Cas9” genome editing system, have been hotly debated in recent years for their potential to control invasive pest species.

A new concept has now emerged known as the “self-stocking incompatible male system” (SSIMS), in brief genetically modified male and female fish are engineered and released to only generate male offspring themselves (and hence are self-stocking), however when they mate with wild-type pest fish in the waterway the offspring are not viable (hence incompatible reproductive characteristic).

This project will use zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model species to design, build, and test the genetic components necessary to successfully apply SSIMS to pest fish populations. This will involve engineering, in effect, a speciation event in zebrafish so that mating between the engineered strain and the wild-type results in non-viable offspring.

The results from this project will support the approach of optimising the equivalent genetic systems in other vertebrate animals.




The objective of this project is to develop and assess two functional genetic components that will then be brought together to demonstrate the proof-of-concept of this genetic biocontrol technology. The findings will be compiled into a whitepaper to further stimulate future directions and discussions on genetic technology development for invasive species control.

Project Leader

Dr Mark Tizard
Project Team
  • Dr Mark Tizard, CSIRO
  • Dr Tanja Strive, CSIRO
  • Dr Agus Sunarto, CSIRO
  • Dr Maciej Maselko, Macquarie University
  • Dr Marco Morsch, Macquarie University
  • Prof Roger Chung, Macquarie University
  • Dr Chandran Pfitzner, Macquarie University
Project Partners
  • Macquarie University (MU)

This project receives funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.


February 2021 update:

A gene promoter has been selected to drive the desired expression as well with the aid of a collaborator several targets, genes and promoters have been identified that successfully cause lethality during embryo development and hold the potential to prevent female embryo development.

The project is currently moving to demonstrate the functionality of the promoter by generating the zebrafish lines to identify correct integration of the gene expression and followed through to sexual maturity of the line to assess inheritance of the genetic trait from generation to generation.