GM medflies show promise in eradicating the pest in Australia

After going through trials, genetically modified Mediterranian fruit fies (Medfly), imported from the United Kingdom, are showing promise at eradicating the pest in Australia. The results could be good news as the Medfly causes millions of dollars in damage each year in the country.

The Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) teamed up with UK technology company Oxitec to conduct trials of the genetically modified Medfly last year.

Their method works a bit like sterilization, and keeps the offspring of females who mate with the modified fly from reaching adulthood.

DAFWA director of horticulture David Windsor was positive about the results and called the tests a success.

"We got the result that we were hoping for," Dr Windsor said.

"The mating competitiveness of the Oxitec flies, and of conventionally irradiated SIT flies, was very similar."

The sterile insect technique (SIT) is being used across the state in an attempt to control Medfly, but Dr Windsor believes the genetically modified fly will be more efficient and cost effective.

"Because the poor flies haven't been bombarded with radiation, we expect them to be a bit fitter and healthier, and to actually survive longer in the SIT environment than irradiated flies do," he said.

Mark Wilkinson grows peaches in the Perth Hills, where managing fruit flies is a daily challenge.

"In my orchard I'm baiting twice a week, which is about two hours commitment, and keeping the fruit fly at a very low level, it's always difficult because you've got to keep at it all of the time," he said.

Even with the positive tests it still could be some time before they get to see a wide use according to Dr Windsor. It will take a lot of time and paperwork until the Medflies are permitted for release on the ground.


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