Thursday, 5 March 2015

Fruit flies like a banana

Most long term readers will be aware that I have an interest in technology and research. This is a hangover from my working life in academia. The climate, environment and electronics are amongst my interests my main interest though as usual I have been known to go off on a tangent.

Did you know that 'time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana'. Is an old wordplay intended to highlight the vagaries of the English language. However, today it has a bit of prominence because maybe time is up for the fruit flies! I recently read of a new bit of research, which will in the future - if successful - have a significant improvement on the environment. It revolves around creating a genetic modification in a pest species that is a major contributor to lost crops. However, this time there is a back door get out of jail card built into the modification. Science has learned from issues of the past.

One of the biggest pest species is the Mediterranean fruit fly. The insect can devastate many different food crops and usually over a wide area. Science has for a long time tried to introduce chemicals to control pest species through poisoning or by introducing a predator species. However, in the past insecticides like DDT and the introduction of cane toads has actually made a situation much worse though unforeseen side effects. Effects that can in themselves become a much bigger problem on the environment.

The new bit of research now targets the fruit flies themselves. Through the simple expedient of making the fruit fly become its own worst enemy. By changing the reproductive ability of the flies it is possible to engineer a huge crash in the fruit fly population. Scientists are about to start trials using fruit flies that have been bred in the laboratory with a genetic change. The flies are allowed to breed in the laboratory in vast numbers. This is because a control chemical in the breeding laboratory allows the flies to breed and behave as normal. However, if the control chemical is removed the flies ability to breed changes and the flies can only reproduce male flies. The numbers of female flies in the following generation plummet. Yet the number of male flies persist. As the number of second generation grows and breeds with wild bred flies the population of females will reduce even further. The general population will suffer a collapse.

The main benefit is that within the target area, the widespread use of chemical insecticides to control the fruit flies is reduced. Any collateral damage created to non pest species is also reduced. Therefore the general population of other beneficial insects such as bees is higher. While other insects will provide a better source of food for predator species such as wild birds. The other interesting part is that by targeting only males while the population within the immediate area will plummet. If the number of males reproduced in the laboratory are no longer released into the environment. The number of fruit flies will return naturally to their previous number. In this way, any unforeseen issues such as that caused by the introduction of non native species. Which happened with the cane toad will be avoided.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please put your name to your comment. Comments without a name may automatically be treated as spam and might not be included.

If you do not wish your comment to be published say so in your comment. If you have a tip or sensitive information you’d prefer to share anonymously, you may do so. I will delete the comment after reading.