A transgenic female killing system for the genetic control of Drosophila suzukii

M. F. Schetelig, J. Schwirz and Y. Yan,  Scientific Reports,  11:12938. 2021.

The spotted wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) is an invasive pest of soft-skinned fruit crops. It is rapidly transmitted in Europe and North America, causing widespread agricultural losses. Genetic control strategies such as the sterile insect technique (SIT) have been proposed as environment-friendly and species-restricted approaches for this pest. However, females are inefficient agents in SIT programs. Here we report a conditional female-killing (FK) strategy based on the tetracycline-off system. We assembled sixteen genetic constructs for testing in vitro and in vivo. Twenty-four independent transgenic strains of D. suzukii were generated and tested for female-specific lethality. The strongest FK effect in the absence of tetracycline was achieved by the construct containing D. suzukii nullo promoter for early gene expression, D. suzukii pro-apoptotic gene hidAla4 for lethality, and the transformer gene intron from the Mediterranean fruit fly Ceratitis capitata for female-specific splicing. One strain carrying this construct eliminated 100% of the female offspring during embryogenesis and produced only males. However, homozygous females from these FK strains were not viable on a tetracycline-supplemented diet, possibly due to the basal expression of hidAla4. Potential improvements to the gene constructs and the use of such FK strains in an SIT program are discussed.

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