Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new gene drive system using CRISPR/Cas9 technology that could help combat the destructive spotted-wing Drosophila suzukii vinegar flies. These flies are known for devastating soft-skinned fruit in regions such as North America, Europe, and parts of South America. The gene drive system targets a specific gene called doublesex, which is essential for sexual development in the flies. By disrupting this gene, the researchers were able to induce female sterility, preventing them from laying eggs.
The CRISPR/Cas9 system, derived from bacterial immune systems, acts as molecular scissors to cut DNA and make precise genetic modifications. In this study, the researchers used dual CRISPR gene drive systems to selectively modify the doublesex gene in D. suzukii flies. They observed that the modified flies passed on the genetic change to 94-99% of their offspring by incorporating a fluorescent red protein marker into the flies’ genome.
Through mathematical modeling, the scientists predicted that introducing one modified fly for every four wild flies could suppress D. suzukii populations within eight to ten generations. This gene drive system, known as a “homing gene drive,” offers a potential solution for agricultural pest control by driving genetic modifications through successive generations of the target species.
The researchers plan to conduct further experiments in controlled environments, such as cages in a greenhouse, to validate the effectiveness of the gene drive system in suppressing D. suzukii populations. They also believe that this approach could be applicable to other pests by targeting conserved genes involved in critical developmental processes. The study’s findings hold promise for addressing the agricultural challenges posed by destructive insect pests and reducing reliance on traditional pesticide use.
Source: North Carolina State University