Biologists at the University of California San Diego led by Anna Buchman in
the lab of Omar Akbari, a new UC San Diego insect genetics professor, have
developed a method of manipulating the genes of Drosophila suzukii, a fruit
fly commonly known as the spotted-wing drosophila. The spotted wing
drosophila is an agricultural pest that has invaded much of the United
States and caused millions of dollars in damage to high-value berry and
other fruit crops.
The insect uses a sharp organ known as an ovipositor to pierce ripening
fruit and deposit eggs directly inside, making it much more damaging than
other drosophila flies that lay eggs only on top of decaying fruit. D.
suzukii has reportedly caused more than $39 million in revenue losses for
the California raspberry industry alone and an estimated $700 million
overall per year in the U.S.
Buchman and her colleagues developed a gene drive system called Medea (named
after the mythological Greek enchantress who killed her offspring), in which
a synthetic "toxin" and a corresponding "antidote" function to dramatically
influence inheritance rates with nearly perfect efficiency. In contained
cage experiments of spotted wing drosophila using the synthetic Medea
system, the researchers reported up to 100 percent effective inheritance
bias in populations descending 19 generations.