Biotech Updates

Uruguay Considers Gene Drives to Combat Screwworms

February 21, 2024

Uruguay has been battling with the New World screwworm infestations for several decades. Screwworm fly larvae, hatched from eggs laid by the female, burrow into cattle flesh, causing fatal wounds if left untreated. Thus, the pest poses a risk to agriculture and the economy.

To address this concern, National Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA) experts designed a gene drive to boost the spread of a gene or group of genes in a population. This method is based on CRISPR gene editing and enables the control and eradication of pest species by hijacking the genes that impact their fertility and survival. Uruguay plans to use this technique to eradicate screwworm populations. MIT Technology Review reports that the research team from INIA has been granted permission by the government in 2020 to conduct efficacy trials.

Other control methods for screwworms include the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), which involves the release of sterile males to impact breeding and decrease population. However, this method is costly and must be repeated endlessly. Compared to SIT, gene drives are more sustainable and cheaper.

Read more from Interesting Engineering and MIT Technology Review.

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