Control of the olive fruit fly using genetics-enhanced sterile insect technique

Background: The olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae, is the major arthropod pest of commercial olive production, causing extensive damage to olive crops worldwide. Current control techniques rely on spraying of chemical insecticides. The sterile insect technique (SIT) presents an alternative, environmentally friendly and species-specific method of population control. Although SIT has been very successful against other tephritid pests, previous SIT trials on olive fly have produced disappointing results. Key problems included altered diurnal mating rhythms of the laboratory-reared insects, resulting in asynchronous mating activity between the wild and released sterile populations, and low competitiveness of the radiation-sterilised mass-reared flies. Consequently, the production of competitive, male-only release cohorts is considered an essential prerequisite for successful olive fly SIT. Results: We developed a set of conditional female-lethal strains of olive fly (named Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal; RIDL (R)), providing highly penetrant female-specific lethality, dominant fluorescent marking, and genetic sterility. We found that males of the lead strain, OX3097D Bol, 1) are strongly sexually competitive with wild olive flies, 2) display synchronous mating activity with wild females, and 3) induce appropriate refractoriness to wild female re-mating. Furthermore, we showed, through a large proof-of-principle experiment, that weekly releases of OX3097D-Bol males into stable populations of caged wild-type olive fly could cause rapid population collapse and eventual eradication. Conclusions: The observed mating characteristics strongly suggest that an approach based on the release of OX3097D-Bol males will overcome the key difficulties encountered in previous olive fly SIT attempts. Although field confirmation is required, the proof-of-principle suppression and elimination of caged wild-type olive fly populations through OX3097D-Bol male releases provides evidence for the female-specific RIDL approach as a viable method of olive fly control. We conclude that the promising characteristics of OX3097D-Bol may finally enable effective SIT-based control of the olive fly.

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