World’s first release of genetically engineered moth could herald new era of crop protection

February 1, 2020 |

In New York, a Cornell University study reports a successful, first-ever open-field release of a self-limiting, genetically engineered diamondback moth, stating that it paves the way for an effective and sustainable approach to pest control. The diamondback moth, also known as Plutella xylostella, is highly damaging to brassica crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and canola.

This new strain of diamondback moth, developed by Oxitec Ltd, is modified to control pest diamondback moth in a targeted manner. The Cornell study showed the engineered strain had similar field behaviors to unmodified diamondback moths, with results offering promise for future protection of farmers’ brassica crops.

Oxitec’s self-limiting diamondback moth is modified to control its pest counterparts in the field. After release of males of this strain, they find and mate with pest females, but the self-limiting gene passed to offspring prevents female caterpillars from surviving. With sustained releases, the pest population is suppressed in a targeted, ecologically sustainable way. After releases stop, the self-limiting insects decline and disappear from the environment within a few generations.

Employing field and laboratory testing, as well as mathematical modelling, the researchers gathered relevant information on the genetically engineered strain of diamondback moth, whose wild counterparts cause billions of dollars in damage. The study was the first in the world to release self-limiting agricultural insects into an open field.

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Category: Research

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