Can a Genetically Modified Bug Combat a Global Farm Plague?

E. Nitler,  Wired,  2020.

A BRITISH BIOTECH firm that developed a genetically modified mosquito to fight dengue fever and other blood-borne diseases in Florida and Texas now has introduced a self-destructing GM caterpillar. Their aim is to stop a pest that is devastating corn and rice crops across the globe.

Executives from the US-owned, but UK-based, firm Oxitec and its multinational partner Bayer announced today that they have developed a fall armyworm that has a self-limiting gene introduced into the male of the species. Once the male mates with a female, the resulting egg becomes overloaded with a key protein and quickly dies. “Our gene produces this protein at such high levels that other natural proteins that are important for the caterpillar’s development can’t be produced,” says Neil Morrison, head of agricultural programs at Oxitec. “The normal cell machinery is swamped by the overproduction of this protein.” The company’s goal is to reduce the population of this kind of worm without pesticides.

Oxitec has already begun small field trials in Brazil of this trademarked “friendly” fall armyworm, according to Morrison, and it hopes to expand the size of the trials there in 2021 upon approval of Brazilian regulators.

 

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