Researchers genetically altered diamondback moths to self-destruct
(Mirror Daily, United States) – Scientists from Cornell University aim to reduce the invasive populations of diamondback moths by genetically engineering them to self-destruct, and then release them on American farms. This experiment is an attempt to reduce agricultural pests without resorting to pesticides which might harm the crops.
Anthony Shelton is a Cornell University professor who has been studying diamondback moths for 40 years. He came up with the idea of genetically altering the species, as this method would reduce the yearly $4-billion costs for pesticides. Besides, this would also protect pollinators or other harmless organisms from the effect of the pesticides.
Fitting diamondback moths with a self-destruct mechanism
Researchers have altered a gene in diamondback moths which kills females before being able to reproduce. The next step was to release males bearing the altered gene among the crops, to mate with wild females and alter the genetic material of the offspring. After the gene takes hold, diamondback moth populations should suffer a massive decrease.
In fact, genetic engineering was the only method left to control these pests. The insect has developed resistance to most major pesticides used in the agricultural industry, so researchers had to resort to extreme measures to deal with the hordes of savage diamondback moths.
Environmental concern about a genetically altered gene released into the wild
The biotech firm Oxitec is responsible with producing the genetically altered insects. They are well-known for successfully reducing the mosquito populations in South America by using a similar genetic method. FDA has already given the approval, but the technique is currently facing criticism from environmental agencies who oppose the use of genetically engineered organisms.
The main concern of these agencies is the impact that an unnatural gene might have on other organisms that eat diamondback moths. There is little research on the impact of a self-destruct gene on the environment. It might solve the pest problem, but it might also lead to other unknown consequences. However, action needed to be taken against the constantly increasing moth populations.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons