A ground-breaking study aimed at crop pest control has revealed for the first time that diamondback moths can be genetically engineered to produce only male offspring and survive in the wild. Caterpillars of the diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella, are among farmers’ greatest enemies as they feast on cabbages, broccoli and cauliflowers. However, the positive results of this open-field study conducted by UK company Oxitec and published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology pave the way for a sustainable alternative to chemical pesticides. By ensuring that only male offspring are produced, the population of the pests is controlled and, importantly, that this strain is lost from the population over time as a self-limiting mechanism. According to the study results, the engineered males dispersed at a similar rate in the field to their wild-type counterparts.
The company has carried out several field trials of its first-generation modified mosquito strains in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands. However, the non-profit organization GeneWatch UK wrote in a 2018 report that it was not convinced of the efficacy of Oxitec’s technology. However, Oxitec responded by saying:
“It ignores the body of strong science, detailed in more than 100 peer-reviewed publications carried out by scientists and scientific institutions from around the world, upon which our public health and crop protection solutions are built. As such, it has no place in reasoned scientific discourse as it was created to drum up negative, sensationalist headlines.”