Dr Michael Stewart from USC is developing a contraceptive for snails.
Dr Michael Stewart from USC is developing a contraceptive for snails. Brett Wortman

How to slug a garden pest - birth control for snails

RESEARCHERS at the University of the Sunshine Coast are one step closer to finding birth control for the slimiest of creatures - snails and slugs.

But the world-first research promises to be a slow process. Naturally.

Dr Michael Stewart and his team, including Dr Scott Cummins and Dr Tianfang Wang, received a $149,000 grant to use "neuro-hormones" to control the pesky creatures found in agriculture land and backyards.

The aim is to use the snails' own hormones against them, in a similar fashion to the contraceptive pill.

Dr Stewart's pilot study will involve injection trials and getting the hormones synthesised and produced.

This stage will take about 18 months.

Then the researchers will look at the "mortality and inactivity of reproduction".

Dr Stewart said there was no chance of creating "super-mutants" as the hormones used would be "unique only to molluscs".

"The goal is to learn ways to manipulate how these animals operate at the molecular level, which could lead to the development of new, powerful, target-specific molluscicides," he said.

Dr Stewart received one of only five grants awarded from 170 applications to the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

The GRDC said the USC research was a first and offered a new approach to pesticide development.

Dr Stewart said the USC project could provide huge economic benefits to areas such as South Australia's Yorke Peninsula, which has plagues of the invasive pests.

"This project is expected to help the grains industry by reducing the impact of these and other agricultural mollusc pests, which costs the industry millions of dollars annually," he said.

The research will also have cross-species applications.


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