Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"Birth Control for Insects" Using Radiation

This is certainly an interesting application of using radiation, via Nuclear Street:

The Olive Fruit Fly only lays its eggs in olives. It can infest up to 90% of a farmer´s fruit, damaging the crops and the livelihoods of the olive growers and exporters. (Photo: FAO/IAEA). But despite being revered by kings and symbolising peace, this ancient tree is being attacked by Bactrocera oleae, more commonly known as the olive fruit fly.

This small, innocuous-looking pest, which only lays its eggs in olives, can infest up to 90% of a farmer´s fruit, damaging the crops and the livelihoods of the olive growers and exporters.

The fly poses a serious threat to the olive and olive oil industries in southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the USA.

However, help could be at hand for farmers affected by these olive-eating pests in the form of nuclear technology.

Scientists from the Joint Division of the IAEA and the UN´s Food and Agriculture Organisation are working on a project to control the fly using the proven and environmentally-friendly Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), which uses radiation to sterilise pests.

This technique, also known as "birth control for insects", suppresses populations by breeding large numbers of sterile males. When released into the wild, they breed with females who in turn produce eggs that do not hatch.

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Maybe over time this technique could be used to replace pesticides...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As it happens, I was doing some research on SIT myself. SIT is often used in combination with pesticide rather than as an alternative. Because it relies on creating a large boy fly-to-girl fly ratio such that a female is unlikely to hook up with a guy that isn't shooting blanks, the population needs to be relatively small for SIT to be practical. If the alien species has gotten a firm toe hold pesticides may be needed to bring the populations down first before SIT delivers the knockout blow, as what happened to deal with the various Mediterranean Fruit Fly infestations that have hit California and Florida over the years. For that reason SIT isn't likely to be effective at eradicating tsetse flies from Africa, for example. Of course, the best defense is a strong offense, which is one reason why fruits, veggies and spices are irradiated as an alternative to fumigation to kill or sterilize the critters before they even land on our shores.