MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Scientists at the University of Minnesota have mapped the genome of the zebra mussel, opening up possibilities for researchers to exploit the invasive species’ weaknesses in the effort to lessen their presence in Minnesota waters.

The Star Tribune reports that the authors of the zebra mussel genome mapping project consider this the “first step” in planning an attack to curb the success of the species that has infested more than 300 lakes and rivers in Minnesota.

With more research, scientists could figure out how to genetically modify zebra mussels so that they struggle to survive in the Midwest. Currently, the invasive species outcompetes its native counterparts, takes resources from small fish and leaves docks and lakebeds covered with clusters of razor-sharp shells.

Along with exploiting the zebra mussels’ weaknesses, the genome project could also allow scientists to understand its strengths. One area of opportunity is the possibility of developing better water-resistant glue, as zebra mussels produce the strongest adhesive of any known mollusk.

The zebra mussel genome map research is under peer review and has been made available to scientists around the world.

According to the DNR, zebra mussels are native to Eastern Europe. Internationally shipping introduced them to the Great Lakes region in the late 1980s, and they quickly spread in lakes and rivers around the upper Midwest.

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