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Controlling Crop Pests using CRISPR


New Rochelle, NY, August 18, 2022—Crop pests and invasive species pose a significant worldwide burden to food production while climate change and the increased movement of species to new locations due to commerce have contributed to escalated burdens on farmers to produce sufficient crops to feed the world population. While pesticides are commonly used for pest control, non-specific broad-spectrum insecticides leave an environmental impact and insect pesticide resistance continues to grow.

In a new cover article published in GEN BiotechnologyNikolay KandulOmar Akbari, and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego have applied new CRISPR-based technology to control pest populations. The authors target Drosophila suzukii, a major crop pest that has invaded much of the world and created significant agricultural and economic damage to soft and stone fruit production.

This study builds upon the precision-guided sterile insect technique (pgSIT) in Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, that was first demonstrated by Kandul, Akbari, and colleagues in 2019. The technology uses programmable CRISPR techniques to edit key genes that control sex determination and fertility. Under the new system, pgSIT-developed insect eggs are deployed into a targeted population and only sterile males hatch, resulting in a fertility dead end for that species. Notably, pgSIT is advantageous over traditional SIT programs that use DNA-damaging agents, such as ionizing radiation, to generate sterilized males, which significantly reduces the overall fitness and mating competitiveness of released males.

In this new GEN Biotechnology study, the authors generated pgSIT in D. suzukii and demonstrated that sterilized males are fit, competitive, and effective in reducing the population. Combining pgSIT males with wildtype males significantly decreased the egg hatching rate from approximately 86% to 62%, indicating that these sterile males are competitive and successfully mate with females in the presence of their wildtype counterparts. In addition, the authors showed that higher release ratios of pgSIT males to wildtype males induced more rapid population decline. 

“It’s a safe, evolutionary stable system,” said Akbari, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences’ Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. “Also, the system does not lead to uncontrolled spread nor does it persist in the environment—both important safety features that will help it gain approvals for use.”

This species-specific technology provides a potentially scalable solution for effective population control for crop pests and could be adapted to many species. If proven effective in the wild, pgSIT could lower agricultural reliance on harmful pesticides to both reduce environmental footprints and increase crop production.

“In the last four years, we’ve developed pgSIT for several different species. Going forward we’re hoping to use it as a platform technology that can be ported to a whole range of pests to safely solve real-world problems,” Akbari continued.

About the Journal
GEN Biotechnology is the new peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. and Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN) delivering exceptional research breakthroughs, news, and analysis directly impacting biotech. Led by Editor-in-Chief Hana El-Samad, PhD, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Altos Labs, the Journal provides a dynamic forum aimed at unifying both traditional academic audiences and executives and researchers from across the industry. Complete tables of content and a sample issue may be viewed on the GEN Biotechnology website.

About the Publisher
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers is known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry’s most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm’s more than 100 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available on the Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers website.


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