'Killer' olive fruit flies designed to bring down their own population

The male flies will contain genes programmed to kill female larvae, thereby bringing down the pest population.
By Ananth Baliga  |  Nov. 21, 2013 at 1:13 PM
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Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The U.K.-based Oxitech is planning to release a batch of genetically modified male olive fruit flies in order to bring down the population of the pest, responsible for destroying olive crops.

The process will involve unleashing these modified male flies among the present population of fruit flies.

The male flies will mate, and any female maggots born of the union will die. Male progeny will carry the killer gene and will over a period of time help bring down the local population of the flies.

"And it's a very hard pest to control; it's been treated with insecticides, but now there's a lot of resistance," said Dr. Luke Alphey, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Oxitech.

The company had previously tested the use of mosquitoes with a similar killer gene in Brazil. In those experiments they found a 96 percent reduction in the dengue mosquito population. Using the same technology, they hope that this gene will program the female flies to die in the larval stage.

The experiment will be conducted in a controlled environment, where the flies will be released only around net-covered trees, so as to prevent the environment being swamped by these "test" flies.

Helen Wallace from Genewatch has criticized the move, saying that once the female larvae receive the signal to kill themselves they will be left in the olives.

"We also don't think it's a very effective technology," she said.

[Popular Science] [BBC]

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