` Spain Considers Trial Release of Genetically-Modified Olive Flies - Olive Oil Times

Spain Considers Trial Release of Genetically-Modified Olive Flies

Aug. 27, 2013
Julie Butler

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Photo: Oxitech

Genetically-mod­i­fied olive flies will be released in a Catalan olive grove if a field trial pro­posed by British biotech com­pany Oxitec is approved in Spain.

According to German expert group Testbiotech, which opposes the trial, it would be the first release of GM ani­mals in the European Union.

The olive fly — Bactrocera (Dacus) oleae — is one of the key pests affect­ing olive cul­ti­va­tion and is man­aged mainly via pesticides.

Oxitec believes its mod­i­fied olive fly strain — called OX3097D-Bol and devel­oped about three years ago — offers a more effec­tive, chem­i­cal-free solution.

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After what is says were promis­ing green­house tri­als, Oxitec seeks approval to release its flies about 8 km from the port in Tarragona, one of Catalonia’s main olive oil pro­duc­tion regions. It’s under­stood that six nets would each cover var­i­ous trees and the trial would last 2 – 3 months.

Oxitec says it want to test the mat­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness, longevity and per­sis­tence of the fly in the field.

Female off­spring die in lar­val stage

In infor­ma­tion sent to the European Commission in January, Oxitec said only males would be released. On mat­ing with wild females, any result­ing female off­spring would fail to develop beyond the late lar­val stages.

No sig­nif­i­cant inter­ac­tions are antic­i­pated. The mod­i­fi­ca­tion is lim­ited to the olive fly by repro­duc­tive bar­ri­ers. In the event that the OX3097D-Bol olive fly is eaten by preda­tors present at the release site the inserted genetic traits are not antic­i­pated to have any toxic effect,” it also said.

Catalan gov­ern­ment says exhaus­tive eval­u­a­tion needed before decisions

A spokes­woman for the Catalan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Environment told Olive Oil Times that Oxitec’s appli­ca­tion had been referred to the Catalan Biosafety Commission.

Before any deci­sion was made, an exhaus­tive risk assess­ment of the pro­posed trial, a 30-day pub­lic infor­ma­tion period, and con­sul­ta­tion with experts and stake­hold­ers were among steps required, involv­ing both the Catalan com­mis­sion and the Spanish National Commission of Biosafety.

She said the com­pany was inter­ested in using about 48 olive trees in Tarragona over an area of about 0.16ha and had indi­cated that it had also applied to release its flies in Italy and Greece.

Oxitec says its strain can quickly wipe out wild olive flies

Oxitec has yet to reply to requests from Olive Oil Times for more information.

However, Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry told Spanish media that because female off­spring of the Oxitec strain fail to reach adult­hood, they can’t mate and the plague grad­u­ally disappears.”

And in an arti­cle pub­lished in January, Michael Conway, a PhD stu­dent at the University of Oxford and Oxitec, said that in recent green­house trials,
Oxitec’s mod­i­fied olive fly strain proved itself a highly effec­tive weapon, totally elim­i­nat­ing a wild-type pop­u­la­tion in less than two months.”

It is an approach that we are con­fi­dent is more eco­nomic, greener, and more sus­tain­able than any exist­ing alter­na­tive,” he said.

Fears of escape and unfore­seen impacts

Public inter­est sci­en­tific group Testbiotech’s spokesman Christoph Then said among the group’s fears was that male descen­dants of the GM flies, which unlike the females could mate and prop­a­gate fur­ther, would escape and spread with­out control.

If the genet­i­cally engi­neered flies escape, the har­vest in the regions con­cerned would become non-mar­ketable. Genetically engi­neered lar­vae liv­ing inside the olives are not allowed for food con­sump­tion in the E.U.”

The Oxitec insects are manip­u­lated with syn­thetic DNA, which is a mix of mar­itime organ­isms, bac­te­ria, viruses and other insects. It is not known how these insects will inter­act with chang­ing envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, so far they have only been bred in the lab­o­ra­tory,” he said.



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