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Weird Science
Mutant Flies to the Rescue

Scientists have engineered a male fruit fly that when introduced into a fly population eventually brings about the population’s “collapse”—because it can only successfully father sons. The discovery that could potentially be used to save crops in an environmentally friendly and cost effective manner, the BBC reports:

The Mediterranean fruit fly is a global agricultural pest which infests over 300 crops, including wild fruit, vegetables and nuts, causing extensive damage. […] Currently, techniques for pest control include sterilisation and insecticides. However, sterile flies do not mate as well in the wild as the process to make them sterile weakens them. Insecticide also poses problems as flies can quickly develop immunity.

The male GM flies produced by Oxfordshire-based biotechnology company Oxitec are only capable of producing male offspring. They have what Oxitec calls “pre-pupal female lethality”. In other words, a female specific gene kills the females before they become adults.

This means that after several generations, the flies die off as the males can no longer find mates.

This ability to introduce “sex bias” into insect populations could change the way we go about protecting crops from insects. Currently, farmers pair insecticides with crops that have been genetically modified to resist the toxin, but the introduction of this genetic variant into pest populations could preempt that.

And this isn’t just a solution for crops—the company developing this technology has conducted “extensive field trials with GM mosquitoes in Brazil in order to prevent the spread of dengue fever, killing 96% of the dengue-spreading mosquitoes.” Mosquitoes pose an enormous global health threat; killing them could save millions of lives.

Genetic modifications have enormous potential to change the world for the better. These technologies are off-putting for some who see them as “unnatural,” and in some cases pose difficult ethical questions. But the green revulsion for “frankenfoods” or a general squeamishness about the concept of mutant flies shouldn’t get in the way of solutions that can help feed our planet’s growing population and help eradicate dangerous disease vectors.

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  • lukelea

    But first you have to wipe out the female population which stubbornly keeps on breeding females. Oh well.

  • qet

    I saw this movie already. Spoiler alert: things don’t end well. Prepare to welcome your new mutant fly overlords.

    • Dan

      I for one welcome them…

  • Josephbleau

    This is the same vector that will affect those populations using selective sex abortion.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    I can’t be sure if the commenters below actually believe what they wrote or are only joking. One thing we can be sure of however is that Big Green will resolutely oppose this development just as they oppose GM techniques everywhere else. Why? Because they are, at bottom, Luddites.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Count me as one liberal who thinks this may be a fine idea. I say “may be” because not too much is known really until any new thing is tried on a wide scale.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I agree, I think the concept of “Natural” is bogus. Why is a dam built by beavers for beavers purposes Natural? While a dam built by men, for man’s purposes Un-Natural? Wasn’t the evolution of mankind “Natural”? And therefore everything mankind does and creates “Natural”?
    Nature gave us horrible diseases like, Leprosy, Malaria, and Plague. Nature has exterminated and brought about the extinction of 99.9% of all the species that have ever lived. Wasn’t Nature’s creation of mankind an act of redemption to make up for all the bad Nature has done? Isn’t mankind Nature’s finest achievement? It’s like Nature hired a gardener to take care of the yard.

    • Corlyss

      Careful, Jack! You’re starting to sound almost religious! LOLOLOL

  • Corlyss

    The fruit fly? Why that? Why not the tsetse, or the disease-bearing mosquitoes? Better yet, when are we going to learn we don’t know enough about systems to go messing about with killing off harmless species? Think kudzu!

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