Genetic modification could halt Tuta absoluta, oak processionary moth

Genetic modification of insects could offer a solution to pest problems such as the spread of oak processionary moth, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has suggested.

DNA. Image: Pixabay
DNA. Image: Pixabay

The AHDB made the claim in its written submission to the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee, which recently wrapped up its inquiry into genetic modification (GM) of insects.

The committee concluded that GM technology has the potential to fight disease and pests in the UK. Its report, published on 17 December, called on the Government to launch a field trial of GM insects

In laboratory trials, male mosquitoes have been genetically modified to make them sterile. While these mosquitoes still attempt to mate with female mosquitoes, they do not reproduce, leading to a fall in population numbers.

In its evidence the AHDB argued that a similar technique could be used on populations of oak and pine processionary moth in the UK.

Other targets could include introduced species such as glasshouse tomato pest Tuta absoluta, cabbage stem flea beetle, cabbage root fly, pollen beetle and brassica pod midge and diamond back moth, the AHDB said.

Another possible target, soft fruit pest Drosophila suzukii, could cause between £80m and £120m of potential losses to the fruit industry at current levels of production, if chemical methods were not used, the AHDB said, adding: "Whilst these losses are not realised because of existing control operations, these compromise the use of biological control for other pests in fruit systems and can result in the need for repeat releases of biocontrols resulting in an additional cost of thousands of pounds sterling per hectare."

The AHDB also pointed out that reducing these populations could reduce the need for chemical controls and allow more integrated pest management methods to be used.

The Earl of Selborne, chairman of the committee, said GM insect technologies could save countless lives worldwide as well as generating significant economic benefits for the UK. He said the Government has a "moral duty" to trial GM insect technology.

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