Australia turns to biotechnology to control the Mediterranean fruit fly, which is one of the most prevalent species of pest nationwide.
Ceratitis capitata, known as the Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly, is an invasive species of fruit fly that can cause extensive damage to a wide variety of fruit crops. The Mediterranean fruit fly is currently endemic to Western Australia.
The female medfly ‘stings’ fresh fruit and lays its eggs in there. The Mediterranean fruit fly larvae hatch and then feed on the rotting fruit.
Oxitec – a British bioengineering firm that specializes in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops, in a cost effective and environmentally friendly way – developed genetically modified Mediterranean fruit flies.
When released into the environment, the GMO flies could mate with wild fruit flies, pass on their genes, and prevent female flies from reaching adulthood, which in turn would also lower the Mediterranean fruit fly population and save the fruit crops.
The Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia (DAFWA) wants to conduct an indoor trial to evaluate the behaviour of the genetically modified Mediterranean fruit flies.
According to Neil Morrison, lead Research Scientist for agricultural pest control at Oxitec, new tools that could be used for pest management practices have to be found and tested.
In July, Oxitec revealed the genetically engineered diamondback moth, which had a gene that could decrease the moth population in the long-run. The diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella), also referred to as cabbage moth, is a an invasive species that feeds on plants that produce glucosinolates, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radish, kale, and so on.
Not long ago, scientists affiliated with the University of California (UC) – located in Oakland, California, U.S. – created a mosquito that could not become infected with malaria protozoars. To achieve that, the scientists took DNA from a malaria-bearing mosquito and restructured it. The DNA was then inherited by almost 100 percent of the offspring of the mosquito, across three generations, scientists said.
Researchers at the Imperial College London also developed an enzyme which causes a genetic defect among mosquitoes that leads to the birth of male offspring only. This could kill of the African mosquito Anopheles gambiae, which carries malaria.
That being said, Luke Alphey, the founding scientist of Oxitec, and Dr. Nikolai Windbichler, a scientist on the Imperial College research team, believe that just because we now have the means get rid of the Anopheles gambiae does not mean that we should do so.
Image Source: bbci