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Asian fly threat to fruit industry

| June 18, 2013
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Larvae of the spotted-wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) on a strawberry. (photo by Hannah Burrack)

It is just two millimetres long but scientists fear the suzukii fly has the potential to damage the UK’s multimillion-pound soft fruit industry. Drosophila suzukii has been advancing out of its native south-east Asia for the past five years and is now known to be in England and Scandinavia.

The pest has the capacity to destroy up to 80% in fruit yield, and could ruin the fruit-farming industry, already beset with problems caused by poor spring weather. The fly lays eggs in fruit such as strawberries, grapes, and pears. Fruits are made inedible as the larvae grow and feed off the fruit flesh, accelerating decay.

However, Edinburgh University based researchers have worked to unravel the genes, in a move that could help them create a targeted pesticide. By understanding its make-up, scientists hope to find out why the fly only eats fresh fruit. They think it may help to create an artificial fragrance that smells similar to fruit to confuse, trap and kill the flies.

The study was carried out by Edinburgh University and Fondazione Edmund Mach in Italy. Professor Mark Blaxter, of Edinburgh University’s GenePool Genomics Facility, said: “It’s a matter of time before it comes here. But it is great to be able to use our state-of-the-art equipment and skills to help with such a threatening pest.” Drosphila suzukii had been known to spend winter in its home climate of south-east Asia, but has become hardy enough to survive northern winters.

The researchers say that, if a crop is infected with the fly, much of the fruit will be lost in the first year, with peaks of up to 80% reduction in yield. Once the fly is established on a farm, getting rid of it is almost impossible.

The study was published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution and was supported by the Medical Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Published in International Pest Control – May/June 2013 issue.

Category: International Pest News

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