Population control — just let the males take over

Unlike sterilized males, GM versions are good 
performers but run out of females

The Mediterranean fruit fly damages 300 types of cultivated and wild fruits, vegetables and nuts worldwide.   Photo: USDA

Scientists at the University of East Anglia and Oxitec Ltd. in the U.K. say they have a new way to control a damaging crop pest — release males genetically engineered to father only male offspring.

The scientists conducted greenhouse research with the Mediterranean fruit fly, which damages 300 types of cultivated and wild fruits, vegetables and nuts worldwide.

Lead researcher Philip Leftwich said previous control measures have included releasing males sterilized by radiation, but they don’t mate well in the wild because the process weakens them. He said releasing flies genetically engineered so that only male 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,” he said in a release.

“We simulated a wild environment within secure eight-metre greenhouses containing lemon trees at the University of Crete. 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.”

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