Scientists breed genetically modified moths to curb global pest problem costing farmers billions of dollars

Diamondback moths cost farmers $5billion a year

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Scientists have bred a genetically modified moth in order to reduce the level of serious pest damage caused to cabbages, kale and broccoli.

Diamondback moths are one of the world’s most destructive insect pests. By gorging on cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale, the creatures globally cost farmers up to $5billion (£3.2million) each year.

To tackle the problem, experts have engineered male diamondback moths with a “self-limiting” gene that produce female offspring that do not survive long enough to have their own offspring. 

Early tests have shown that the genetically modified moths can reduce greenhouse populations within eight weeks.

Follow-up studies in the US will include field cage tests this followed by small-scale field releases.

Dr Neil Morrison, from the Oxford University spin-out company Oxitec, which created the moth, said: “This research is opening new doors for the future of farming with pest control methods that are non-toxic and pesticide-free.

"We all share an interest in safe and environmentally friendly pest control, so this is a very promising tool that could be put to good use by farmers as part of integrated pest management (IPM) strategies for healthy and sustainable agriculture."

The self-limiting gene was previously trialled on mosquitoes which carried dengue fever, and reduced the insect populations by a staggering 90 per cent in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands.

Professor Tony Shelton of Cornell University, who co-authored the research published in the journal BioMed Central Biology, said: "Diamondback is a serious problem for farmers in New York State and around the world - anywhere cruciferous vegetables and field crops are grown. These moths invade and attack the crops, and they are developing resistance to insecticides, so we urgently need new tools to better control them."

 

Professor Johnjoe McFadden, an expert in molecular genetics at the University of Surrey, called the research "exciting".

"Release of the GM moths resulted in a crash of the moth population in greenhouse trials. If the results can be replicated in the field then it would represent a big step forward in eco-friendly ways of controlling insect disease and improving food production."

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