One of Australia’s worst pests could soon lose its manhood or undergo a sex change.
It’s part of a bid to save the nation’s $7 billion fruit and vegetable industry from the dreaded Queensland fruit fly.
Australian and New Zealand scientists are working on a plan to alter the DNA of the insect.
They are exploring how feeding certain genes to larvae can alter their DNA so they grow into sterilised male flies, whether they start out as male or female.
If the five-year study succeeds, thousands of the flies will be released into infected orchards across Australia to breed with female flies, which mate only once.
Lead CSIRO researcher Dr Paul De Barro says the large-scale research project is a “game changer” in controlling the insects.
Researchers also hope to create 1.5-millimetre sensors, which can be glued to the flies to pinpoint their location and identify where they breed.
They will also look at creating traps that can notify scientists when a fly has been caught.
“The traps will then detect the flies and send that information back to fruit fly control,” Dr De Barro said.
“A call will then go out to the factory which load up thousands of flies onto drones.
“Those drones will then go out on a pre-planned mission and they will drop the fruit flies.”
QUEENSLAND’S FRUIT FLY PEST
* A native Australian fly about 8mm long
* Considered one of farming’s most damaging pests
* Infests apples, avocados, capsicums, kiwi fruit and mangoes
* Larvae laid on plants can rot and discolour fruit and vegetables
* South Australia and Tasmania are the only Australian states that are fruit fly free
* A declared outbreak can restrict the sale of produce
* Insect parasitoids, which latch onto and kill insects or larvae, and some chemicals are used to control fruit fly numbers
(Source: Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation).