Biologists at the University of California San Diego have developed a method of manipulating the genes of an agricultural pest that has invaded much of the United States and caused millions of dollars in damage to high-value berry and other fruit crops.
Research led by Anna Buchman in the lab of Omar Akbari, a new UC San Diego insect genetics professor, describes the world’s first “gene drive” system—a mechanism for manipulating genetic inheritance—in Drosophila suzukii, a fruit fly commonly known as the spotted-wing drosophila.
As reported April 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Buchman and her colleagues developed a gene drive system termed Medea (named after the mythological Greek enchantress who killed her offspring) in which a synthetic “toxin” and a corresponding “antidote” function to dramatically influence inheritance rates with nearly perfect efficiency.
“We’ve designed a gene drive system that dramatically biases inheritance in these flies and can spread through their populations,” said Buchman. “It bypasses normal inheritance rules. It’s a new method for manipulating populations of these invasive pests, which don’t belong here in the first place.”
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