18 November 2013


A UK biotechnology company has applied for permission to carry out the first field trial in Europe of a genetically modified insect.

If it receives approval, the company will carry out a small-scale test of GM olive flies in Spain.

The aim is to combat this olive crop pest by releasing male flies that have a “female-killing gene”.

If the GM flies can outbreed the wild flies, the female offspring will die – reducing the olive fly population.

The technology was invented by the co-founder and chief scientific officer of the biotech firm Oxitec, Dr Luke Alphey.

“Olive fly is the single major pest of olive production,” Dr Alphey explained.

“In a bad year, you can lose of the whole of an olive crop.

“It’s been treated with insecticides, but now there’s a lot of resistance. So there it’s a very hard pest to control.”

According to Oxitec, the olive industry in Greece spends approximately €35 million (£30 million) annually on insecticides to control olive flies – to prevent an estimated loss to the industry of €650 million.

If they receive permission from the Spanish authorities, the researchers will release GM flies around net-covered olive trees, to contain the insects and to prevent the experiment from “being swamped by flies in the environment”.

Killer mosquitoes

In Brazil, Oxitec and its collaborators have progressed much further into their trial of GM mosquitoes.

In the most recent trial in a town called Mandacaru the company reported a 96 per cent reduction in the dengue mosquito population.

“In fact all our trials have shown a 90 per cent reduction [or more],” said Oxitec’s chief executive Hadyn Parry.