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Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Develop First Gene Drive Targeting World's Invasive Crop Pest

April 18, 2018

Biologists at the University of California San Diego led by Anna Buchman in the lab of Omar Akbari, a new UC San Diego insect genetics professor, have developed a method of manipulating the genes of Drosophila suzukii, a fruit fly commonly known as the spotted-wing drosophila. The spotted wing drosophila is an agricultural pest that has invaded much of the United States and caused millions of dollars in damage to high-value berry and other fruit crops.

The insect uses a sharp organ known as an ovipositor to pierce ripening fruit and deposit eggs directly inside, making it much more damaging than other drosophila flies that lay eggs only on top of decaying fruit. D. suzukii has reportedly caused more than $39 million in revenue losses for the California raspberry industry alone and an estimated $700 million overall per year in the U.S.

Buchman and her colleagues developed a gene drive system called Medea (named after the mythological Greek enchantress who killed her offspring), in which a synthetic "toxin" and a corresponding "antidote" function to dramatically influence inheritance rates with nearly perfect efficiency. In contained cage experiments of spotted wing drosophila using the synthetic Medea system, the researchers reported up to 100 percent effective inheritance bias in populations descending 19 generations.

For more, read the news release at the UC San Diego News Center.