Soon to come in upstate New York, genetically modified male Diamondback Moths will be flying amongst the natural insect population, blending in and mating with other female moths. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has cleared the release of engineered moths, which pose no threat or harm to humans or the environment.
Diamondback Moths are notorious for damaging cruciferous vegetable crops including cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. While the current method to prevent moth attacks is pesticides, the moths are slowly becoming resistant to the chemicals. The conventional and organic pesticides used by farmers to prevent damage cannot control the moth population.
To curb the issue, genetically modified moths will carry a gene that kills the female offspring before they can mature and reproduce. Special light filters can identify the moths’ distinguishable, red fluorescence markers. The tracking devices can allow scientists to study the moth population growth and optimize characteristics and settings. By reducing the number of female moths, the population as a whole will decrease. This allows the usage of pesticides that prevents these moths from eating crops to decrease.
Entomologist Tony Shelton from Cornell University and his colleagues have been performing multiple experiments regarding the moth engineering. After successful trials, they will be releasing approximately 10,000 moths at a time on up to 10 acres of Brassica fields at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.
This is not the first time for a planned release of genetically modified insects into the environment. Proposition for genetically modified mosquitoes to be released in Florida occurred in 2016. This caused great controversy as many individuals believed that the release would affect the insect population and environment dramatically. However, this moth release is targeting a specific species which should not affect the local ecology.
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Edited by: Michelle Li and Daryn Dever