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Insect Pest Control Laboratory

The Insect Pest Control Subprogramme carries out Research and Development activities (R&D) at the Insect Pest Control Laboratory located at the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratories in Seibersdorf, 35 km southeast of Vienna. The Laboratory specializes in applied research, and method development and adaptation, as needed by operational Field Projects helping Member States to apply the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT).

This R&D complements Coordinated Research Projects (CRP) each with the participation of 15 – 20 Member States, and addresses gaps in relation to mass rearing, sterilization, quality control, behaviour and genetic of major insect pests of agriculture, veterinary and human importance, such as fruit flies, moths, tsetse flies and mosquites.

The Laboratory also provides training and services including the supply of biological materials, provision of guidance on the development and use of equipment and expert support for CRPs and Field Projects. In addition, the Insect Pest Control Laboratory is a reference centre for insect strains and mutants.

The Laboratory is currently staffed with six research scientists and 12 permanent technical support staff. The Laboratory receives continuously fellows and scientific visitors for training for a varying period of time depending on the topic and either participate in one of the working activities or carry out a research project. The Laboratory also host consultants, sabbaticals and visiting scientists for short or long-term periods. It has extensive insect rearing facilities, including quarantine facilities, training areas, a molecular laboratory, a gamma irradiator and an X ray source.

The R&D carried out at the Insect Pest Control Laboratory is aimed at improving the use of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). The major R&D topics are related to the development and improvement of mass-rearing techniques, radiation biology, mating behaviour, strain competitiveness and compatibility, molecular biology, genetics, development of genetic sexing strains, use of probiotics, hormones and semiochemicals to enhance sterile male behavior, and quality control and management of the reared and released insects.

The decision as to which species are included in the activities of the Laboratory is of prime importance. New pest species are being introduced in the Laboratory and the R&D programme is flexibly amended as required to address concerns of Member States on newly emerging insect pests of regional or cosmopolitan importance. Read more about our activities in Newsletters and Annual Reports.

Fruit flies. Fruit flies are among the most devastating pests of agricultural crops and their presence in the Member States has significant consequences for international trade. R and D in the Laboratory has in the past two decades focused on the Mediterranean fruit fly Ceratitis capitata. However, as the SIT technology for this species has much matured, the emphasis has now shifted to other important fruit fly pests such as various Anastrepha and Bactrocera species.

The Fruit Fly Research Group maintains colonies including: Oriental fruit fly Bactrocera dorsalis (wild and a genetic sexing strain (GSS)), Melon fly Zeugodacos cucurbitae (wild and GSS ), Guava fruit fly Bactrocera correcta, olive fruit fly Bactrocera oleae, Mexican fruit fly Anastrepha ludens (wild and GSS), South American fruit fly A. fraterculus (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru (six trains from different geographical regions) origin) and others. A colony of the Vienna 8 genetic sexing strain of the Mediterranean fruit fly is still maintained for training purposes and to supply material to collaborating institutes (Fruit fly strains available at the IPCL). In addition, small experimental colonies of more than 100 mutant fruit fly strains are being maintained as an important repository for Member States.

Current research topics of the Fruit Fly Research Group include: (1) improvement of rearing methodology and radiation studies for the olive fruit fly, (2) effect of juvenile hormone mimics and dietary proteins on the behaviour of male melon fly and male South American fruit fly, (3) mass-rearing of transgenic fruit fly strains, (4) mating competitiveness and compatibility of various transgenic strains and wild strains, (5) cytogenetic characterization of genetic sexing strains of B. dorsalis and B. cucurbitae, (6) the use of stable isotopes to distinguish between wild and laboratory-reared fruit flies, and (7) analysis of various transgenic fruit fly lines.

Tsetse flies. Tsetse flies (Glossina spp) are blood feeding insects in sub-Saharan Africa which transmit Trypanosoma parasites that cause Human African Trypanosomosis (HAT) or sleeping sickness in humans and African Animal Trypanosomosis (AAT) or "Nagana" in livestock. There are 8-10 tsetse species of economic importance that prevent the development of sustainable and efficient livestock production systems and tsetse are therefore rightfully considered as one of the root causes of poverty in Africa.

The Tsetse Research Group maintains important colonies of Glossina pallidipes, G. swynnertoni, G. m. centralis, G. p. palpalis, and G. brevipalpis. Colonies of other important tsetse species are being maintained in various collaborating institutes (e.g. SAS (Slovakia), CIRDES (Burkina Faso), TTRI (Tanzania)). The research of the Tsetse Research Group is currently focusing on: (1) the development, refinement and validation of the semi-automated feeding and holding "Tsetse Production Units" (TPU3), (2) the sequencing of the genome of the Salivary Gland Hypertrophy Virus (SGHV) in various strains of G. pallidipes, (3) the management of the SGHV, (4) an assessment of SGHV prevalence in various wild tsetse populations, (5) the development of a sexing mechanism for tsetse pupae using Near Infrared Spectroscopy, and (6) an assessment of alternatives to the use of gamma radiation such as UV for decontamination of tsetse blood for feeding.

In addition, the Tsetse Research Group is involved in an evaluation of an X ray irradiator (RS2400) as an alternative to gamma radiation for the sterilization of insect pests that are the target of AW-IPM programmes with an SIT component. The group also has initiated a dosimetry inter-comparison service, to assist programmes that release sterile insects with the correct evaluation of their radiochromic dosimetry system.

Mosquitoes. Malaria is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. It is one of the most devastating diseases in Africa, responsible for more than 1 million deaths per year and a major obstacle to poverty reduction. A new project has started to assess the feasibility of developing the SIT package for the control of Anopheles arabiensis, one of the malaria transmitting mosquitoes.

The research on mosquitoes at the Insect Pest Control Laboratory is currently focused on: (1) the development and improvement of mass-rearing techniques (i.e. larval rearing trays and tray holding racks, larva/pupa separator, irradiation device, etc.) (2) the development of an adequate artificial larval diet, (3) the improvement of competitiveness of irradiated male mosquitoes, (4) the assessment of radiation dose-response curves and related competitiveness of male mosquitoes from wild strains and a genetic sexing strain, and (5) the volumetric estimation of eggs and an assessment of the feasibility to dry and store eggs for short periods of time.


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