UK researchers say they can help limit the devastating effect on farmed vegetables caused by the diamondback moth, by genetically modifying the pest to drastically limit its population. Jim Drury went to meet them.
The diamondback moth is a bugbear of farmers. It munches its way through any green vegetable it can find, making crops unsellable. But scientists at British firm Oxitec have a solution. SOUNDBITE (English) OXITEC RESEARCH SCIENTIST, ADAM WALKER, SAYING: "We're going to be injecting into diamondback moth embryos some DNA and we're hoping to integrate this DNA into the diamondback moth genome. This takes two generations to occur." Injected into male moths, the self-limiting gene dramatically reduced the pest's population in greenhouse trials by the Oxford University spin-off. SOUNDBITE (English) LEAD RESEARCHER, OXITEC, NEIL MORRISON, SAYING: "It targets only the pest that you're trying to control but leaves other bugs flying around in the field unaffected and that might include bugs that are actually quite beneficial to farmers, like pollinating bumblebees." The injected moths carry a coloured marker, allowing for easy identification and tracking. Genetic modification remains controversial, but Oxitec insists its work will lead to a pesticide-free, eco-friendly method of pest control. SOUNDBITE (English) LEAD RESEARCHER, OXITEC, NEIL MORRISON, SAYING: "Diamondback moth is an invasive species in most of its range, so where we intend to control it we're actually probably changing the local ecology back to its natural state and the fact that it's so species specific means that, especially relative to other methods such as insecticides, means that the ecological footprint is very, very small." Outdoor field experiments are planned in New York. The moth causes $5 billion USD worth of ruined vegetables every year. Oxitec hopes it can soon stop the insect from bugging farmers across the world.