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Drive Away the Flies

Researchers have developed a gene drive to control a fly population that wreaks havoc on fruit crops.

A team of University of California, San Diego, researchers developed a two-part gene drive system — which it dubbed Medea — that relies on a maternal miRNA "toxin" and a zygotic "antidote" for the spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii. In that way, it affects inheritance frequencies to persist in the population.

"We've designed a gene drive system that dramatically biases inheritance in these flies and can spread through their populations," first author Anna Buchman from UCSD says in a statement. "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."

D. suzukii, which is originally from Japan, was first spotted in the western US in 2008. These flies deposit their eggs in fruit, leading to some $700 million in revenue loss each year, according to UCSD.

As the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, the drive they developed reached up to 100 percent inheritance in some fly populations for a number of generations. However, they note that there was not full inheritance in later generation outcrosses, suggesting that some resistance may arise.