Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

Oxitec’s Olive Fly Strain Could Become First GM Insect to Undergo Field Evaluation in the EU

September 4, 2013

OXFORD, England, September 4, 2013 /PRNewswire/ –

Oxitec has applied to Spanish regulatory authorities for permission to carry out a
netted field evaluation of its olive fly strain: a novel approach to controlling one of
Europe’s most damaging agricultural pests. If approved, the study would be the first
outdoor trial of a GM insect in the EU.

The olive fly (Bactrocera oleae) is the single major pest for olives, causing
widespread crop damage and significant financial losses to Europe’s olive farmers. It is
extremely difficult to control using existing methods. John Vontas, Associate Professor of
Biotechnology and Applied Biology, University of Crete, Greece, a leading international
authority on insecticide resistance, explains the problem: “The control of olive fly has
been largely based on the use of chemicals, but the intense use of insecticides has led to
the development of insecticide resistance, which makes control problematic. In addition,
the new European Union pesticides legislation means that a large number of efficient
insecticides have been or are being phased out, or their use is dramatically restricted.
Alternative control methods, such as pheromones, traps and biological control have also
been employed, but their effectiveness is much less.”

Oxitec’s olive fly strain carries a genetic modification. In Oxitec’s pest control
approach, the company’s engineered males are released to mate with wild females, resulting
in the death of all the female offspring. In earlier in-door caged trials Oxitec’s
approach was able to completely eliminate wild-type olive flies in less than two months.
It has also completed extensive laboratory and greenhouse testing.

Conventional products tend not to distinguish between the target pest and other insect
species, but by using male flies as tools to control their own species, Oxitec’s approach
ensures that only the olive fly is targeted. Leading the trial, Dr Martha Koukidou of
Oxitec explains, ‘Olive flies only mate with olive flies. Our approach is aimed not only
at controlling the olive fly, but also to avoid harming other species. By using our form
of genetic sterility our flies are designed to eliminate the pest and not to stay in the
environment. Also, unlike any other control approach, ours contains a marker making
monitoring of our flies very accurate and simple.’

Oxitec’s approach has already been successful in trials with mosquitoes. Dengue fever
is a growing global threat and is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito (Aedes
aegypti). A recent trial in Brazil carried out in an urban environment achieved a 96%
suppression of this dengue mosquito.

Oxitec has now applied to the Catalan regulatory authorities for permission to conduct
a field evaluation of its olive fly strain, in accordance with EU regulations. Only when
the national biosafety commission has evaluated the application following a period of
public comment, and written permission has been received from the Catalan authorities, can
any release take place.

Commenting on the Oxitec technology, Victor Perdrix of the biological control company
OpenNatur in Spain said, “We have been looking for a highly effective and environmentally
sound solution for olive fly. We believe this holds great potential.”

Many olive farmers, such as Paul di Calabiana Willan, have also expressed their
support for the Oxitec approach, “I am an olive farmer in Como, northern Italy. On the
mountain terraces here, agriculture depends on the success of olive plantations, but in
recent years the olive fly pest has wiped out several harvests. The main weapon against
the olive fly is a chemical which has been banned in some countries. Nothing else is
effective. In my view the use of GM insects to eradicate this pest is a necessary step
towards achieving zero pesticide use.”

“European agriculture is facing some severe challenges,” said Hadyn Parry, Oxitec
Chief Executive. “The burden of agricultural pests is ever present while the number of
control approaches is shrinking in the face of insecticide resistance and de-registration
of existing chemical treatments. To survive and prosper, European farming will need to
evaluate and embrace new solutions and new technologies which are effective, sustainable
and safe. If approved, this evaluation will be an important step to bringing an exciting
new approach to the farmers who need it.”

About Oxitec Ltd.

Oxitec is a pioneer in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops. Its
products build upon the use of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), an effective,
species-specific and environmentally friendly method of controlling harmful and damaging
insects. Oxitec’s first products are for the control of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito
species primarily responsible for transmitting dengue fever, the olive fly and the
Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most damaging agricultural pests.

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SOURCE Oxitec Ltd.

Source: PR Newswire