Diamondback moths have inflicted billions of dollars of crop damage every year in the US. Their appetite for Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower make them a major pain for farmers.
The US Department of Agriculture recently approved a potential solution: The release of genetically engineered diamondback moths for a field trial in an area of upstate New York.
This will become the first wild release of an insect modified using genetic engineering in the US.
As The Atlantic reported, the moths have been engineered by the British biotech firm Oxitec, the same company that last year
The diamond back moths take a similar technique to the mosquitoes, modifying male mosquitoes to limit the population over time by passing on a gene to offspring when it mates with wild females that causes female moths to die before they reach maturity.
The engineered moths will be tested on a ten-acre plot owned by Cornell.
According to The Atlantic, Cornell entomologist Anthony Shelton and his team will release up to 30,000 altered moths per week over three to four months.
Because the adult stage of the insect is not a hazard to crops and because New York’s harsh winter will eventually kill the released moths, according to the report submitted to the USDA.
The USDA determined the release will have no significant impact on crops or the environment. Trials in greenhouses have shown that the technique is successful in reducing the numbers of diamondbacks, but tests still need to determine how it will fare in open air.
“Undoubtedly this has been the most—how should I say it—paper-intense project that I’ve ever undertaken,” says Shelton to The Atlantic.