Australian wildlife officials have been dealing with the common carp for years. The aggressive, invasive species does some $500 million AUS in damage every year to regional Australia, especially to places along the Murray River. They’re tried trapping and commercial fishing and exclusion. Not a single approach has worked especially well.

So they’re turning to herpes. Seriously.

For seven years, Australian scientists at the country’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have been working on a strain of herpes that they say will only afflict carp. When successful, the virus kills an infected carp in about one week.

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Now, reports The Guardian, Australian officials have secured $15 million AUS to eradicate carp with the virus, beginning in the Murray-Darling basin in southeastern Australia.

“Anyone who loves the Murray knows what damage the carp have caused to the river environment over many years. The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and the CSIRO have made significant progress evaluating a viral biological control agent, we know that it works, we know it’s completely safe, now we need to plan the best way to roll it out,” says Christopher Pyne, Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science.

Not everyone agrees with that sentiment.

British scientists, including Dr. Jackie Lighten and Professor Cock van Oosterhout of the University of East Anglia, say the “irreversible high-risk proposal” could have “serious ecological, environmental, and economic ramifications.” They worry the virus could rapidly mutate in the wild and attack other species.

They say the oxygen loss from millions of tons of rotting carp would be as bad, if not worse, than the current overpopulation. Australian wildlife officials disagree. They say that since carp make up 80% of the biomass in the Murray river alone, native species already nearing extinction can’t wait for another solution.

Australian scientists have weaponized the Herpes virus, and now they’re using it on… fish? Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Patrick is a content editor for Rare.
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