British Biotech Moves One Step Closer to Solution to Tackle Crop-Damaging Moths

Oxitec has expanded beyond mosquitoes and commenced field trials of its genetically engineered diamondback moth (DBM) to combat crop losses.

Oxitec uses advanced genetics and molecular biology to control parasites and pests by introducing a gene that ensures that they do not reach reproductive age. Field trials will assess whether a self-limiting DBM could control the highly invasive pest, which is responsible for over $4B (€3.4B) in crop losses and control management costs annually. The system would provide a more effective and environmentally friendly alternative to insecticides, against many of which DBM has already developed resistance.

Self-limiting DBM offers a new strategy in a field where ¨innovation is necessary,¨ according to Dr. Tony Shelton, Professor of Entomology at Cornell University and a world expert on sustainable agriculture and DBM. The modified DBM mates with wild DBMs, producing offspring that do not reach adulthood. This technique targets the pest population, reducing its burden on farmers, without touching other potentially beneficial species.

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Oxitec has already seen its self-limiting mosquitoes receive the green light in France and the Netherlands despite popular skepticism that some may describe as unfounded. “We’ve been at the forefront of trying to educate regulators,” Hadyn Parry, CEO of Oxitec, told us at Refresh (watch the video above!), as his company bids to overcome these concerns.  The need arose from the species’ ability to overcome insecticides, which limits their utility. So far, results from greenhouse and field cage studies of the modified DBMs have been successful, with the strategy quickly suppressing and eliminating DBM populations. No direct competitors exist, however, alternative techniques such as RNA interference (RNAi) are potential avenues for future research.

Sekhar Boddupalli, Senior VP, and Head of Intrexon´s Food Sector said that self-limiting DBMs will ¨provide a powerful and sustainable solution to the control of the increasingly insecticide resistant DBM, and the damage it causes to a variety of important crops.¨ By overcoming resistance, lack of specificity and common health concerns, such as insecticides reaching the human food chain, self-limiting DBMs offer a potential solution to DBM control.


Image – chinahbzyg / shutterstock.com

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