Using the CRISPR gene editing tool, researchers have developed a new way to control and suppress populations of insects, potentially including those that ravage agricultural crops and transmit deadly diseases. The 'precision-guided sterile insect technique' (pgSIT) alters key genes that control insect sex determination and fertility. When pgSIT eggs are introduced into targeted populations, only adult sterile males emerge, resulting in a novel, environmentally friendly and relatively low-cost method of controlling pest populations in the future.
"CRISPR technology has empowered our team to innovate a new, effective, species-specific, self-limiting, safe and scalable genetic population control technology with remarkable potential to be developed and utilized in a plethora of insect pests and disease vectors," said Akbari, an assistant professor in UC San Diego's Division of Biological Sciences. "In the future, we strongly believe this technology will be safely used in the field to suppress and even eradicate target species locally, thereby revolutionizing how insects are managed and controlled going forward."
The researchers envision a system in which scientists genetically alter and produce eggs of a targeted pest species. The eggs are then shipped to a pest location virtually anywhere in the world, circumventing the need for a production facility on-site. Once the eggs are deployed at the pest location, the researchers say, the newly born sterile males will mate with females in the wild and be incapable of producing offspring, driving down the population.
The new technology is distinct from continuously self-propagating "gene drive" systems that propagate genetic alterations from generation to generation. Instead, pgSIT is considered a "dead end" since male sterility effectively closes the door on future generations.
"The sterile insect technique is an environmentally safe and proven technology," the researchers note in the paper. "We aimed to develop a novel, safe, controllable, non-invasive genetic CRISPR-based technology that could be transferred across species and implemented worldwide in the short-term to combat wild populations."
Read more about this study at Science Daily.
spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii): Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org