Oxitec: Australia trials medfly for protection of fruit crops
March 21, 2016
Australia trials Oxitec’s environmentally friendly medfly for protection of fruit crops
The Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) announced today they will conduct an indoor assessment of Oxitec’s pesticide-free and environmentally friendly method of insect pest control in the hope it could help growers protect their fruit crops from the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) pest, and protect the high quality and variety of fruits consumers have come to depend on and enjoy.
In Western Australia (WA), Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly, Ceratitis capitata) is a major problem for commercial orchardists and householders alike, attacking more than 250 types of fruits and vegetables. The female medfly ‘stings’ fruits as she lays her eggs, making them vulnerable to infection and rot. Medfly’s versatility in the variety of crops it targets means that it is a pervasive threat all year round that requires intense insecticide control to prevent infestation. In Australia and the Americas it is an invasive pest.
“We need to evaluate new tools that could become a helpful part of integrated pest management practices to support sustainable agriculture,” explains Dr Neil Morrison, Research Lead for Agricultural Pest Control at Oxitec.
Oxitec’s self-limiting medfly is an update of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), which has been used around the world for more than 50 years and has proved effective for Medfly control. In SIT, sterile flies are released to mate with the pest flies and because there are fewer offspring after each release, the pest population crashes down to manageable levels.
“Using radiation to sterilise the flies in conventional SIT can also weaken them meaning that larger numbers are required. Oxitec’s approach is more targeted using a self-limiting gene to achieve the same effect,” says Morrison. “We believe this approach will be much more cost efficient and we aim to make monitoring much simpler as our insects carry a colour marker which makes them easy to distinguish from the real pest.”
Unlike insecticides which can affect a broad variety of insect life including bees and other helpful pollinators, the Oxitec self-limiting approach is entirely species-specific, affecting only the targeted pest population. The self-limiting gene is also non-toxic, so the flies can be eaten by birds or other animals with no adverse effects.
The self-limiting insect pest control developed by Oxitec has been trialled against dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil, successfully reducing target insect populations by over 90% – an unprecedented level of control by any method. This approach has now been approved by the national biosafety committee in Brazil (CTNBio) for use throughout the country. Oxitec’s Medfly has been approved for outdoor trials in Brazil and its diamondback moth is currently being trialled in the US.
The research will be funded by DAFWA and Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (Hort Innovation). DAFWA’s laboratory trials will evaluate whether the Oxitec fruit flies can be reared successfully and are compatible with the pest females. The flies were imported to Western Australia through the quarantine process as eggs and have just graduated to rearing in DAFWA’s indoor research facility, with glasshouse trials expected to begin next year.
Oxitec is a pioneer in using genetic engineering to control insect pests that spread disease and damage crops, and was founded in 2002 as a spinout from Oxford University (UK). Oxitec is a subsidiary of Intrexon Corporation (NYSE: XON), which aims to apply biology to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
About the medfly
The Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) is considered the world’s most terrible pest of fruit, attacking more than 250 kinds of fruit, including citrus, apricots, nectarines, peaches, mangoes, apples and pears. This pest fly species, Ceratitis capitata, originates in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is an invasive species in most of its range. The medfly is difficult to control by conventional methods, including insecticide spraying, so new methods of pest control are needed that are both effective and environmentally friendly.