GM Insects Seen As New Pest Control Option

While many people are still worried and concerned about genetically modified plants that is said to not only help improve yield but also to control pests, some biotech companies are already on the way of trying to focus on a different means for using genetic modification. While most genetic modification projects focus on plants, a company called Oxitec has begun putting their focus on developing genetically modified insects as a means of pest control.

A number of years ago, many residents in the Florida Keys were concerned about plans to release genetically modified Zika-fighting mosquitoes in the wild. But opposition may have halted the plans to go through with it. But this has not stopped the British biotech firm from exploring other areas of pest control using GM insects. Recently, they have announced the planned release of GM Diamondback moths in field trials in upstate New York. Approved by the Dept. of Agriculture, this event may be considered as the first wild release of a genetically engineered insect in the US.

The Diamondback moth has been known as a bothersome pest, a voracious eater of plants such as Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower. This makes them a major pain for many vegetable farmers. The GM Diamondback moth is designed to cause populations of the insect to die off over time. The process is similar to how the Zika-fighting mosquitoes were designed- modifying the male insect to pass a gene to wild females while mating that causes the offspring to die off before reaching maturity.

This approach of controlling pest populations has been used as early as the 1950’s and was known as the sterile insect technique. But during that time, the insects were treated with radiation to make them unable to produce viable offspring. But this time, the biotech scientists are using genetic engineering to develop an alternative form of pest control. It offers a possible solution to avoid the use of too many pesticides in commercial farming. While it may seem sensible, there are also certain disadvantages as well with this technique of pest control. This approach will only be effective in eradicating one type of insect.

In the case of the GM Diamondback moth, a review indicated that the planned field release will not have a significant impact on the environment or to humans. The USDA permit given allowed for the release of up to 30,000 moths per week for several months. Since it is the caterpillars that do the most damage to crops, the plan to release GM adult make moths into the wild will not cause any additional crop damage. According to the USDA report, surviving moths will likely be killed off using pesticides as well as the frigid winter in upstate New York. While closed or greenhouse testing has shown that the approach is quite effective in decreasing the insect’s overall population, it still needs to be determined how it will fare when the GM moths are released in the open air.

Source: Gizmodo


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