The solution to this costly pest problem is to – according to findings published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology – genetically modify a number of these diamondback moths and realease them into the wild. These genentically modified moths are then able to breed themselves out of existence.
Genetically engineered male moths are released into the wild to mate with other moths. While they remain unharmed, the female offspring will die off in the caterpillar stage. This leaves the seemingly healthy male offspring to go off and continue the process.
Tactics such as this have been a point of interest since the 1950s. A good example is the ‘sterile insect technique’ which uses a similar approach of limiting reproduction by releasing sterile male and female insects into the wild. Scientists behind this revision of the tactic say that genetic engineering is simply a more efficient method.
The team researching the moths have already tested this approach by releasing groups of flourescently painted moths into an existing community of wild moths. The team says the genetically engineered males appear to behave exactly like their wild counterparts, with roughly the same rate of survival and ability to travel. They also found that the self limiting aspect of the males selectivity meant that only targeted populations would be neutralised.
While scientists behind the project are confident that this will be beneficial, there are obvious risks surrounding such a project. At this point in time, we have no idea what the long term consequences of genetically manipulating a species out of existence may have.