A decade ago most people were not aware that genetic engineering could lead to reduced insect pest populations. However, when the Zika virus began to spread in 2015, many news outlets reported on the science of genetically altered mosquitoes. In an effort to reduce mosquito populations, many different scientists experimented with genetically engineered lab-raised mosquitoes. These genetically modified mosquitoes were released into the environment in order to mate and reproduce. The hope was to reduce Zika transmission rates by making large amounts of mosquitoes sterile. These experiments have since proven to be largely successful, and now genetic engineering is being used in multiple different ways as a method of mosquito control. Given the success of these genetic methods of mosquito control, some experts are hoping to expand this technology in order to combat other types of insect pests.
Many researchers believe that biotechnology could be used to successfully control populations of certain crop pests. Unlike other pest control methods, genetic engineering could be used to target specific insects while leaving other insects unharmed. Anthony Shelton is one of the many researchers that is currently working to advance genetic forms of insect pest control. Lately, Shelton has been working to determine the efficacy of genetic control methods on populations of diamondback moths. Diamondback moths are among the most damaging of all insect pests. These insects cause five billion dollars in crop damage per year. The diamondback moth is the only crop pest that has adapted to survive every form of insecticide. Shelton is working with a company that has produced millions of genetically altered mosquitoes in the fight against Zika. The company is now focused on manipulating diamondback moth populations with biotechnology. Hopefully, genetically modified diamondback moth adults will produce females with self-limiting genes that lead to their deaths. After several generations of mating with genetically modified moths, the amount of viable females in a population will decrease to the point where moth populations cannot be sustained. With genetic technology crop pests may one day become a distant memory.
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