Researchers Modify Fruit Fly Genes to Assist Farmers

Minnesota, in the country’s north, is home to a raspberry farm owned by Paul Nelson. A common red fruit that people enjoy eating in the summertime is raspberries. Nelson and the rest of his crew at the farm worry a lot about fruit flies. The spotted wing drosophila is the insect pest that damages their berries. About 15 years ago, the Asian insects made their way to the United States. In Maine, blueberries are also harmed by flies. Farmers in regions like Maine and Minnesota are experiencing increased fly problems as winters get warmer and spring arrives early. Winters that are warmer allow fruit flies to live and procreate more frequently. Additionally, they are developing resistance to a few pesticides, which are substances used to eradicate pests.

The fruit is harmed by the flies’ egg laying. Nelson warned that if farmers do not want to invest the effort necessary to combat the flies, they will destroy fruit orchards. To protect the fruit plants from pests, farmers cover them with canes or use insecticides. They put in a lot of work, but even so, they lose 20 to 30 percent of their crop annually. North Carolina State University researchers are attempting to find a solution. To ensure that any offspring they have cannot procreate, female flies’ DNA is being altered in a lab.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is a publication that the scientists just published their work in. They discovered that 99 percent of the progeny produced by mating one of their flies with an ordinary fly would be sterile, or incapable of procreating. Using computer models to forecast the population, the scientists discovered that they could eradicate fruit flies in an area similar to a farm in just five months by introducing modified flies gradually. The idea of altering an insect’s DNA has been addressed by scientists before. Genetically engineered mosquitoes are being used by scientists to lower the population of insects that spread diseases including dengue, zika, and yellow fever. Since using pesticides is easy, gene modification technology has not been used as much in agriculture.

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