UH researchers discover gene that could control insect pests - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

UH researchers discover gene that could control insect pests

(Image: University of Hawaii) (Image: University of Hawaii)
(Image: University of Hawaii) (Image: University of Hawaii)
Joanne Yew (Image: University of Hawaii) Joanne Yew (Image: University of Hawaii)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

By Erica Marie-Louise Barry

Researchers may have found a promising alternative to controversial pest control methods.

A team of scientists led by University of Hawaii at Manoa researcher Joanne Yew may have discovered a gene in vinegar flies responsible for the insect’s waterproof coating.

When adult flies did not have this gene, their lifespan shortened, they lost their coating, and they got stuck on the sides of plastic vials -- unable to free themselves.

“This last feature was reminiscent of the comic book character Spider-Man, which is why we named the gene spidey,” says Yew.

The team plans to knock out spidey in pest species like fruit flies, which are a major threat to agriculture, and even mosquitoes, which can carry life-threatening diseases.  If these species also lose their waterproofing, this method could be a promising alternative to harmful pesticides.

Yew says that it will be at least four more years of research, testing, and government approval before this discovery can be used as pest control.

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