Friday, September 4, 2015

A Different Kind of GMO

Here's an idea; instead of genetically modifying food plants so that they're resistant to insects, why not genetically modify the insect pests so that they can't reproduce? Perhaps that would be more palatable to people who are concerned about eating GMOs.

You've probably never even heard of a diamondback moth, and why should you have?  It's an unloved pest of cabbage patches; an invasive species that is hard to kill.  Back in the 1940s it became the first insect pest to develop resistance to DDT, a pesticide now banned.  It even resisted a technique that works with some insects - irradiation to sterilize male insects.  These days, cabbage, kale, and broccoli farmers have to spray multiple different pesticides in a single season just to keep it in check, at an annual cost of about 5 billion dollars.

But now a solution may be on the horizon: Researchers at Cornell University in upstate New York have developed a technique for genetically modifying diamondback moths so that the female larvae all die before reaching maturity.  The genetically modified moths have not yet been released into the field, and probably won't until at least 2016.  First the moths will be tested in enclosed outdoor cages to see how well they normal moths.  And of course there are regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Understandably, people who categorically oppose all GMOs oppose this one as well.  But this GMO does have some features that might make it more acceptable, according to a New York Times article. 1) It is not a human food.  2) It doesn't stray far from where it was born (or released).  3) Even if it did stray, it would be killed by the harsh New York winters, the same as adult normal moths.  4) It does not violate the rules of organic farming, so it wouldn't matter if it strayed into an organic farm field.  5) And finally, thanks to another genetic modification, the genetically modified moth glows red under ultraviolet light, making it easily identifiable from a normal moth.

It'll be interesting to see if this GMO is ever approved for use in open farm fields.   

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