Magazine article Science News

Lady-Killing Genes Offer Pest Control

Magazine article Science News

Lady-Killing Genes Offer Pest Control

Article excerpt

For decades, scientists have blasted insects with radiation to create sterile males that farmers then released for pest control. Now, a team based in England suggests a more subtle approach. Two new lines of Drosophila melanogaster prove that it's possible to create insects with dominant genes that make females self-destruct on cue, report Dean D. Thomas of Oxford University and his colleagues in the March 31 SCIENCE.

The next challenge is to use the method on an economically important pest, says Luke S. Alphey, who led the team. "Top of the list is the medfly," he says.

Although male irradiation has had successes--it wiped out screwworm in the United States--that technique is costly. Irradiating the insects to render them sterile leaves them less healthy than wild competitors. Producing healthier males that are still effective for pest control would make smaller numbers sufficient, says Robert T. Staten, director of the Phoenix (Ariz.) Plant Protection Center. "You're talking a huge amount of dollars," he says.

He and his colleagues have demonstrated a pest-control option that uses genetic engineering. In one fruit fly line, the team inserted a three-part genetic time bomb: a lethal gene that disrupts signaling in cells, a switch controlling it that flips only in females, and a control for that switch that keeps it in its off state when the fly consumes the antibiotic tetracycline.

The researchers also created a fruit fly line with a switch that's flipped in both sexes but a gene that's lethal only to females. …

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