Technique creates stronger sterile medflies

02/26/2014 11:01:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

Mediterranean fruit flyCourtesy University of California, DavisSterilizing male fruit flies in a low-oxygen environment creates a stronger insect that's more attractive to females.University of Florida researchers want to create the fruit fly version of George Clooney: 52 years old and still able to wow the ladies.

The quest comes after years of dropping millions of sterilized male fruit flies over urban regions as a less intrusive and more publicly palatable way to control the pest.

The goal is to inundate an area with so many sterile males that fertile females will have a hard time finding a wild male with which to mate. Eventually, the population dies off because of lack of reproduction.

The flies are sterilized using radiation—electron beams, X-rays or gamma ways—all of which tends to weaken the insects and make them less appealing to females, according to a news release.

Daniel Hahn, an insect physiologist, and his former postdoctoral associate, Giancarlo López-Martínez, who is now an assistant professor at New Mexico State University, found that sterilizing insects in a low-oxygen environment helps maintain their sexual attractiveness.

“Our males (insects) are not only more sexually competitive, they are maintaining their sexual competitiveness and their virility, into old age,” Hahn said in the release. “And that has the potential to make them much better biological control agents.”

The researchers found that using the low-oxygen technique not only boosted a sterile male;s sexual attractiveness and ability to mate but also its longevity.

Florida spends about $6 million annually on the sterile release program that targets Mediterranean fruit flies. California spends about $17 million a year on a similar program.

Some facilities, such as the one in Guatemala that provides sterile flies to Florida, do use the low-oxygen technique. But many others don't.

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