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Don't Mess With Cherry Farmers, Flies

Farmers in California are considering whether gene drives could help them contain the invasive spotted-wing Drosophila, Technology Review reports.

Spotted-wing Drosophila make holes in ripening cherries, whereas native fruit flies lay their eggs in rotting fruit, Tech Review says, noting that the spotted wing flies lead to a loss of $700 million a year. To combat this, it reports the California Cherry Board has funded researchers at the University of California, Riverside, to investigate whether gene drives can be placed in the flies to control their population.

Gene drives are being explored to combat the spread of malaria and Zika by mosquitos and control invasive pests like rats and mice, typically by rendering the pests infertile.

UCR researchers have had success inserting the drive into the fly, and the board now tells Tech Review that it's ready to finance bigger studies of the gene drive by establishing a public-benefit corporation to raise money from other growers and that they hope to have a gene drive ready to use within five years.

Tech Review notes that there are concerns that gene drives could run amok once they are widely released, but it adds that researchers are also developing ways to contain them.