Living With Genetically Altered Pests

Diamondback Moth

Diamondback Moth
Photo: Lyle Buss

The ability to manipulate insect genes has led to new methods of insect control. Some genetic manipulations lead to insects that are sterile or fail to develop. The company Oxitec produces genetically altered insects that could potentially control pests. Initial focus has been on disease vectoring mosquitoes with some success.

Trials are underway with diamondback moth, an invasive pest of cabbages and other cole crops. Diamondback moth is notoriously difficult to control with conventional pesticides because of rapid resistance development. Genetically altered diamondback female moths do not develop. Genetically altered males that develop normally are released to transmit the altered gene into a population. So far, experiments have only been tried in field cages.

As with any new technology, unexpected effects may result. Thus, the new technology is subject to permits and limited field trials to assess potential hazards. Diamondback moth is not native to North America.  The unlikely event of driving North American populations to extinction would not be of concern as it would return the ecosystem to a preexisting condition.  If no unexpected hazards appear, then permitting leading to commercialization will move forward. If unexpected effects do appear, the gene release will be contained and the project halted. To date no untoward effects have been noted. The technology is potentially much safer than traditional insecticides that expose workers to toxins and leave residues on our foods. Bigger questions are, “How effective will the new technology be?”

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal, Caterpillar Blogging, News, Pest Management. Bookmark the permalink.

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