A Safer Way to Control Pests

Insects and other pests have always posed a problem for farmers, they can destroy crops and cause a great deal of financial damage to the agricultural industry.  This problem is magnified when an invasive, non-native species is involved. Unlike native pests, which are often controlled in at least a limited way by natural predators, invasive species have no natural enemies and farmers use pesticides, which can harm indigenous species, to control them.

The Diamondback Moth is an example of one such invasive species. This moth has spread to regions all across the world, and causes billions of dollars of damage to crops each year. To make this bad situation worse, it is rapidly developing resistance to the most commonly used pesticides.  Farmers are quickly running out of conventional options for controlling this winged menace.

So what can we do? The answer is actually quite surprising (and simple): biotechnology. Scientists in the UK have come up with an ingenious way of controlling this terrible pest. They have found that it is possible to modify the male moths reproductive system so that only male moths will be produced. Without females to breed with, the moth population will soon (in around eight weeks) collapse.

The benefits to this approach are undeniable. Since this approach doesn’t rely on toxic pesticides native species, like bees, will not be negatively affected.  The genetic modification is also non-toxic, so any animals that eat the genetically modified moths will not suffer any negative side-effects.

The USDA has already approved field tests, which will begin this summer. It is exciting to see how human ingenuity can be used to fix today’s complex problems.