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Modified Fruit Flies Could Save Crops

Aug 13, 2014 01:57 PM EDT
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Flying insect numbers drop, threatening world ecosystem

Researchers have recently developed a new strategy to control pests that have been known to cause extensive damage to crops. By releasing genetically modified variants of wild fruit flies into local populations, experts hope to cull pest numbers without the need for potential harmful insecticides or irradiation.

In a collaborative research study with the University of East Anglia (UEA), Oxitec Ltd. has recently crafted male Mediterranean fruit flies which sport dominant genetic information that prevents their female offspring from maturing.

A detailed report on this study was recently published in the journal Proceeding of the Royal Society B.

"The Mediterranean Fruit Fly infests more than 300 types of cultivated and wild fruits, vegetables and nuts. It is a real pest to agriculture and causes extreme damage to crops all around the world," Oxitec said in a recent statement. "Of all of the current techniques used to control these flies, SIT (Sterile Insect Technique) is considered the most environmentally friendly as it uses sterile males to interrupt matings between wild males and females."

According to the study, the researchers were looking to improve the SIT strategy. Modern SIT involves sterilization through irradiation, cutting reproductive potential, but also weakening the fly male populations as a whole - something that could have an adverse impact on local ecologies.

"We simulated a wild environment within secure eight-meter greenhouses containing lemon trees at the University of Crete," the company said. "When we tested the release of the genetically modified male flies, we found that they were capable of producing rapid population collapse in our closed system."

Interestingly, in order to make sure that the modified flies don't wipe out populations entirely, a suppressor can be introduced that allows females to grow into adulthood when conversationalists call for it.

Nature World News has previous reported about other examples of similar SIT strategies. Last June, researchers from Carolina State University determined how to cull sheep blowfly and New World screwworm populations with a crimson-marked death sentence. Prior to that, experts discussed how genetic modification could eradicate mosquito populations - an eradication that some argue would have very little impact on ecology.

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