One of the main obstacles for a wider use of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) against the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) is the damage commercial fruit suffers due to sterile female stings. To overcome this obstacle, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture has played a leading role in sponsoring and carrying out research to develop medfly genetic sexing strains that allow male-only SIT releases.
Recently, as a result of this continued FAO/IAEA effort, genetic sexing strains based on a temperature sensitive lethal (tsl) mutation have been developed at the IAEA Laboratories at Seibersdorf. Unlike previous pupal color sexing strains, these ‘second generation’ sexing strains allow female killing at an early (embryonal) stage. In addition, they are essentially stable under mass rearing conditions. This represents an important breakthrough because both of these attributes were considered indispensable for genetic sexing strains with any potential to replace conventional strains with both sexes in large scale sterile medfly production facilities. Besides the considerable savings in the costs of release and field monitoring, genetic sexing strains in field tests have shown severalfold increases in the effectiveness of the SIT as compared with the standard strains involving males and females. When releasing both males and females, sterile males are apparently not used effectively, because they use their limited sperm mostly to mate with sterile females and because they do not disperse widely in the presence of these females. When males only are released, however, they disperse much further in search of wild females and compete more intensely with wild males for wild females.
As a result of the availability of usable male-only strains, and the demonstration of their increased effectiveness, the applicability of the SIT against medfly has increased in two different ways. Highly developed commercial fruit growing regions, that previously had excluded application of SIT because of the fruit damage due to sterile female stings, are now reconsidering such free area/exclusion programs. More-importantly, sterile male releases can now also be used for routine control purposes, rather than only for eradication programs, partially or fully replacing chemical bait-sprays during the fruiting seasons.