An international research team centred around LOEWE scientist, Professor Marc F. Schetelig, identifies a colour gene to combat Mediterranean fruit flies in the long term

The Mediterranean fruit fly, ceratitis capitata, and its white and brown cocoons
© Foto/Grafik: Roswitha A. Aumann und Marc F. Schetelig
The Mediterranean fruit fly, ceratitis capitata, and its white and brown cocoons

Scientists are constantly looking for new, environmentally-friendly possibilities to combat pests in agriculture and so provide protection from pests, but also create as few problems for the soil, plants and other species of animals. The Mediterranean fruit fly, for example, which is one of the world’s most serious pests in the agriculture sector, will now be combatted with the help of sterile insect technique (SIT), i.e. a kind of “birth control” system. Sterile male members of the species are released in affected areas to prevent reproduction. The problem here is that it is not possible to distinguish the sex of Mediterranean fruit flies during their embryonic, larva or cocoon stages.

An international research team centred around Marc F. Schetelig, Professor for Insect Biotechnology in the field of plant protection at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen and a scientist at the DRUID and ZIB LOEWE Centres, has now managed to decode a gene, which is responsible for colouring the shell of the cocoon and can therefore distinguish between male and female cocoons.

“This knowledge about the genetic basis for the colour of the cocoon’s shell forms the starting point for establishing new efficient SIT programmes and is a huge success for sustainable and environmentally-friendly pest control,” says the co-lead author of the study, Roswitha Aumann, from the Department of Insect Biotechnology at the Justus Liebig University. “By combining classic genetics, ‘next-generation’ sequencing techniques, bio-informatics and molecular biology methods, we’ve been able to successfully conclude a search for this marker, which has been continuing for more than 20 years,” Professor Schetelig adds. The results have been published in the renowned “Nature Communications” specialist journal.

24 research scientists from Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Austria, the Czech Republic and the USA were involved in the study. The major project and the lead author, Roswitha A. Aumann, were supported by the HORT Frontiers Fruit Fly Fund (Hort Innovation/Macquarie University Sydney) and by the Hesse Ministry for Science and the Arts via the LOEWE Centre for Insect Biotechnology (2017-2019) in the group led by Prof. Dr Marc F. Schetelig.