Researchers have figured out a way to use genetic modification to control the population of a pestilent moth species without the use of pesticides. Reuters reports:
[Scientists] from the Oxford University spinout company Oxitec…developed diamondback moths with a “self-limiting gene” which [sic] dramatically reduced populations in greenhouse trials.
The self-limiting gene technique has already been tested against dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes, cutting their populations by over 90 percent in trials in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands.
This could be a welcome development for farmers, as the BBC reports that these moths are “notoriously difficult to deal with…because the moths quickly develop resistance to insecticides.” On top of that, this new technique isolates the intended target better than current methods, preventing other organisms from being affected—a common complaint levied against pesticides by environmentalists.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen genetic modifications being touted as a better tool for combatting pests than current methods. The same company (Oxitec) that developed this approach for diamondback moths produced similar results for the common fruit fly last summer. Oxitec has also performed “extensive field trials with GM mosquitoes in Brazil in order to prevent the spread of dengue fever, killing 96% of the dengue-spreading mosquitoes.” If researchers figure out a way to safely introduce these genetic modifications into pests like mosquitoes, we’ll be able to use GM technology to do more than improve crop yields—we could potentially save millions of lives.
This GM tech promises to reduce the use of pesticides, eliminate “collateral damage” in insect populations, and give farmers a more effective tool in protecting their crops from invasive species. Greens need to get over their bias against genetic modification research quickly. It is among the most promising solutions at hand to the problem of feeding humanity in an increasingly warm and crowded planet—and potentially quite useful for killing pests and saving lives.