7 March 2016

Construction of a factory with the capacity to turn out 50 million sterile male Queensland fruit flies (Qfly, Bactrocera tryoni) a week is under way in South Australia.

The first sod was turned at the Port Augusta site on September 1.

The $3,8 million sterile insect technique (SIT) breeding facility is being built as part of SITplus, a $22m research partnership under the auspices of Horticulture Innovation Australia. When operational it will produce sterile flies whose release into orchard regions will cripple the natural breeding cycle of the fruit pest.

In September Hort Innovation announced the appointment of Dan Ryan as program director of the national SIT consortium, SIT plus. Following the building’s handover it will be fitted out in readiness for the first intake of flies to be introduced and the systems fine-tuned.

“It will be 2018 before we start to roll flies out,” Mr Ryan said.

“In the past we’ve used a bisex strain where we’ve released males and females.

“That’s a very inefficient way to do it – and of course you can’t release males and females over fruit because with the females, even though they’re sterile, you will still get stinging.

“We’re taking a few approaches now to getting a male-only line of fly ready for when· the factory starts producing.

“We have a breeding program at the University of Adelaide to develop a temperature-sensitive lethal gene, which is what they use in the Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly, Ceratitis capitata), and we also have a program with the CSIRO looking at interference RNA to develop both sterility and male insects.

“That’s new technology but it’s quite positive.

“As a backstop we also have a pupal colour-sorter that can sort males from females, and in Vienna, in oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis), we have the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) doing crosses between tryoni and dorsalis and then back-crossing to try to get a tryoni fly with that pupal colour.

“At the same time we have a very large research program looking at SIT: we have research into the ecology of the fly in the field and research into understanding grower behaviour as related to sterile insect technique – the social impacts, the economic impacts – and we have research into the logistics of release, and research around trapping and the like as well.”

Funding for the project has been provided by the SA Government (in partnership with Hort Innovation and industry) in a bid to defend its status as Australia’s only fruit-fly-free mainland state and at the same time assist its eastern neighbours.

[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]In September Hort Innovation also named its new Qfly area ­wide management co-ordinator, Dr Penny Measham.[/gdlr_quote]

Dr Measham is based in Hobart as a research fellow in tree physiology at the University of Tasmania, having worked in research and extension roles with fruit industries for the past 10.years.

Her 34-month Hort Innovation contract began on August 24.

She is working through regionally focused programs to prepare growers and shire councils for the eventual deployment of SIT Qflies.

The need for effective biological control of Qfly gained urgency with the deregistration by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority of the organophosphate insecticide fenthion at the start of November.

More information

Contact Dan Ryan at SITplus: Dan.Ryan@plantandfood.com.au

Key points

  • New factory to produce 50 million sterile flies per week
  • Release will cripple breeding cycles
  • Sterile flies released in 2018

Acknowledgment: Article by Rosalea Ryan, reproduced from Australian Citrus News