Designer insects to wipe out pests and disease
Genetically modified insects released in the wild could soon prevent their natural counterparts from ruining crops or spreading human diseases
GM INSECTS are go. Genetically modified versions of a fly that decimates olive trees could soon be released in Spain in an attempt to control the pests. And in
The techniques are opposed by anti-GM groups, but advocates say they offer a real alternative to spraying insecticides, and have the potential to provide a better and more precise tool to combat agricultural pests and insects that spread human diseases.
The olive fruit fly is a major pest to olive growers in the Mediterranean and
The males are equipped with genes that cause any female offspring they sire to die while they are still in the larval stage, before they have had a chance to reproduce. The idea is that the male offspring inherit the lethal genes and continue to propagate them through the population, until the number of females dwindles to zero and the species crashes.
In lab experiments, the designer flies successfully competed with non-GM males for mates and caused the population to nosedive within 10 weeks (BMC Biology, doi.org/nvd). To check this happens in the wild, the trial would involve releasing the engineered flies under six olive trees in the
As the Spanish authorities mull the application, Oxitec is continuing with an even bigger trial to combat dengue fever in Jacobina, a city of 50,000 people in the Brazilian
The principle is almost the same as with the olive flies – send out an army of male mosquitoes equipped with genes that prevent any offspring, male or female, from reaching breeding age. "Our males are mating at the frequency we'd hoped," says
In a preparatory field study elsewhere, the team showed its mosquitoes reduced the native population by between 80 and 96 per cent within six months. "The new programme is less about 'does this work?', and more about the first operational roll-out of this technology," says Alphey.
The main benefit of the GM insect method, says
However, opponents, such as GeneWatch
Divide and conquer
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