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New CRISPR/Cas9-Based Gene Editing Approach to Control Vinegar Fly Population

In a new study appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from North Carolina State University describe a "homing gene drive system" based on CRISPR/Cas9 that could be used to suppress populations of Drosophila suzukii. These spotted-wing Drosophila, or vinegar flies, are known to damage soft-skinned fruit in North America, Europe, and parts of South America. The CRISPR gene drive system the researchers developed targets the doublesex gene, which is important for sexual development in the flies. Targeting this gene results in sterility of female flies, making them incapable of laying eggs, corresponding author, Max Scott, an entomologist at NC State, says in a statement. By using a fluorescent red protein to mark the presence of the CRISPR/Cas9-induced change to the fly's genome, the researchers could track its transmission, finding that the gene drive system was transmitted to 94 percent to 99 percent of progeny. "This is the first so-called homing gene drive in an agricultural pest that potentially could be used for suppression," Scott says in a statement. "Because doublesex is such a conserved gene required for female development in so many fly species, I think the homing gene drive strategy could be used for other pests."