Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Historical treasures in a modern pest: the Black Rat story

By Angela Lush

The genome of the Black Rat will provide a clearer picture of its role in spreading disease, and will help policymakers prepare for possible outbreaks in the future.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

They scuttle under houses and along fences. Their beady eyes peer out from behind leafy fronds and they often draw screams from the faint-hearted.

Black Rats are a common sight around Australian homes, but many residents may not know these pests hold the scientific key to unlocking the causes of historic and future disease around the world. A South Australian Museum team has embarked on a project to map the genetic story of the Black Rat. The data will provide a clearer picture of the rat's role in spreading disease and this information will help policymakers prepare for possible outbreaks in the future.

Rattus rattus – the Black Rat – is the world's worst agricultural and urban animal pest. They can spread a range of diseases to humans and wildlife and severely damage agricultural crops, stored food and native fauna. In the late Middle Ages, it is estimated that one in three people in Europe was killed by the Bubonic Plague – a disease spread by fleas on Black Rats. The rats have been destructive in modern times too. Those introduced onto Christmas Island caused the extinction of the native Christmas Island Rat in just nine years. The Museum's research could help to predict what may happen to local fauna if the rats' range expands into new areas.

Professor Steve Donnellan and his team at the South Australian Museum's Evolutionary Biology Unit are...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

South Australian Museum