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NYC subway rats soon to be a thing of the past?

Posting in Cities

In an effort to control the rat population lurking within New York City's subway, the city is turning to an unusual method -- sterilization.

As a British national, I'm used to the overcrowding, the odd smells and self-imposed passenger rules not to make eye contact, but beyond the odd mouse here and there, avoiding scurrying rodents is not a regular part of my day. However, whenever I venture across the pond, the presence of rats in the NYC subway is constant, especially at night.

The number of rats in the Big Apple appear to barely be dented by the use of traps and poison, so what else can you do to keep the disease-carrying critters under control?

Why not sterilize them?

Metro Transit Authority officials are hoping to put this idea to the test, according to the New York Times. At a meeting this week, officials detailed their plan to launch a pilot system which would make female rats permanently unable to reproduce.

Called Contrapest, a sweet, salty compound will be placed in bait boxes to entice rats to snack. While harmless to humans, after extensive testing, the drug is found to inhibit reproduction in rats, and eventually make them sterile. The bait targets the ovarian follicles, making litters smaller and eventually eradicating the ability to reproduce. Considering a city rat can have up to seven litters with up to 12 pups each a year, this kind of plan may be a more humane and effective as a long-term investment than bait and trap -- especially as many female pups born when a rat has taken Contrapest will also lose the ability to reproduce.

However, purchasing the compound -- developed by firm SenesTech -- would need some serious investment from NYC officials if the long-term sterilization plan is going to have any effect. In order to make a rat infertile, it would need to consume approximately 10 percent of its body weight in the drug over the course of five to ten days, and it would need to be appealing enough to compete with the tonnes of trash and leftover food littered across New York.

Considering rats' ability to become resistant to poisons over time, officials remain cautious over how successful such a trial will be as Loretta Mayer, SenesTech's co-founder commented:

"In the words of Albert Einstein, if we knew what we were doing, they wouldn't call it research."

(via NYT)

Image credit: Diego Torres Silvestre

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— By on March 13, 2013, 2:39 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure