From: Editor, ENN
Published August 13, 2014 08:04 AM

Engineering Fruit Flies May Help Crops

We've genetically-modified crops to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or pesticides. Nonetheless, pests still infest crops around the world.
In an attempt to control these pests, scientists have turned to genetically engineering the pests themselves!

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According to scientists at the University of East Anglia and Oxitec Ltd., releasing genetically engineered fruit flies into the wild could prove to be a cheap, effective and environmentally friendly way of pest control.

Researches studied the Mediterranean fruit fly an agricultural pest which causes extensive damage to more than 300 types of crops. It is currently controlled by a combination of insecticides, baited traps, biological control and releasing sterilized insects to produce non-viable matings, known as the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT).

Lead researcher Dr Philip Leftwich, from UEA's school of Biological Sciences and Oxitec, said: "Of all of the current techniques used to control these flies, SIT is considered the most environmentally friendly as it uses sterile males to interrupt matings between wild males and females. The down side is that these males don’t tend to mate as well in the wild because the irradiation method used for sterilisation weakens them.

"Our research looked at whether releasing Oxitec flies, which are genetically engineered so that only male fly offspring survive, could provide a better alternative.

"The genetically engineered flies are not sterile, but they are only capable of producing male offspring after mating with local pest females - which rapidly reduces the number of crop-damaging females in the population. Using this method means that the males do not have to be sterilized by radiation before release, and we have shown they are healthier than the flies traditionally used for SIT."

"This method presents a cheap and effective alternative to irradiation. We believe this is a promising new tool to deal with insects which is both environmentally friendly and effective."

'Genetic elimination of field-cage populations of Mediterranean Fruit Flies' is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Read more at The University of East Anglia.

Fruit fly image via Shutterstock.

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