Gene editing research is getting a multi-million dollar boost at N.C. State from the Pentagon’s top research agency.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a two-year grant worth $3.2 million for the development and testing of the system.

The initial target is to find ways to reduce populations of rodents on islands as a means of protecting threatened seabird populations.

Another $3.2 million grant is possible in the DARPA “Safe Genes” program.

John Godwin, an NC State professor of biological sciences, is the principal investigator for the project.

“Gene drive systems work by causing a particular gene or genetic trait to get passed down to a high proportion of offspring from generation to generation,” NCSU reports.

“Invasive rodents also prey on native species and destroy sensitive habitats,” Godwin said. “We believe a genetic approach to reduce invasive rodent populations may be necessary, as current approaches, while effective, have their limits. A species-specific approach could do a tremendous amount of good.”

Godwin pointed out tat while islands contain less than 5 percent of the earth’s land mass they are home to 20 percent of the world’s species and 40 percent of critically endangered species.

“Islands are hotspots of biological diversity, but they are also hotspots for endangered species,” Godwin said.

Also involved in the project are Texas A&M University, the University of Adelaide in Australia, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Island Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center.