Gene engineering of pests can make their offspring die in embryo stage

January 27th, 2009 - 3:01 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 27 (ANI): An international team of researchers has engineered the genes of the medfly, which is a serious agricultural pest, to generate offspring that die whilst they are still embryos.

The genes of the medfly, also known as the lethal Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata), were engineered by Ernst A. Wimmer and his team from the Georg-August-University in Gottingen, Germany.

According to the researchers, the flies, when released into a wild population, could out-compete the normal male flies and cause a generation of pests to be stillborn, thus protecting important crops.

Here, we present the first alternative, radiation-free, reproductive sterility system for medfly based on transgenic embryonic lethality, said Wimmer.

The medfly is a devastating and economically important pest.

The currently used method of controlling it is the sterile insect technique (SIT), whereby male flies are irradiated to induce reproductive sterility and then released into the wild, where competition with fertile males reduces the overall insect population.

This radioactive version of the SIT has the drawback that the irradiated males are often less competitive than their wild brethren and so an awkward balance must be stuck between competitiveness and degree of sterility.

When transgenic males carrying our transgenic system mate with wild females, all progeny die during embryogenesis without the need for radiation, according to Wimmer.

Due to the complete lethality, no fruit damage from developing larvae will occur and no transgenes can pass into the wild population. Moreover, males carrying this system are highly competitive, he added.

According to the researchers, Use of our embryonic lethality system, without the need for radiation, can increase the safety of SIT programs, since accidental releases would not lead to infestations of the environment and possible risks coming from isotopic sources can be eliminated for workers and the environment. (ANI)

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