Sterile fruit flies the latest weapon to reduce numbers

By Country News

Millions of sterile Queensland fruit flies are set to be dropped over Cobram in the coming weeks in a bid to reduce population numbers and protect horticultural crops.

Two million sterile flies were dropped over Cobram on Wednesday and Thursday as part of the ongoing program.

The move is part of a $60 million effort to curb QFF populations through the SITPlus program, which releases sterile fruit flies in a bid to reduce numbers.

The program has recently moved into full trials in NSW and Victoria following successful releases in South Australia during the past year.

Macquarie University is leading the pilot release effort which will target urban areas around Cobram and in NSW, with hopes the program will be rolled out further.

Fruit fly biosecurity innovation director Professor Phil Taylor said the project would be ongoing. 

“At each location, about two million sterile flies will be released from a customised aircraft each week until April 2020,” he said.

“On the ground, scientists will monitor the movement of the flies, their longevity in the field, the impact on crops and the wild population.”

Hort Innovation SITPlus director Dan Ryan said QFF was responsible for an estimated $300 million in lost produce and markets nationally, and the SITPlus initiative was working to turn that around.

“The sterile Q-fly production facility in Port Augusta is in full swing, producing 20 million flies per week,” he said.

“Satellite rear-out centres, which receive sterile flies from pupae stage and grow them for release, are also now open in Yanco, NSW and Tatura, Victoria. The program is constantly being refined to ensure the best possible outcomes.”

Mr Ryan said some of the nation’s leading scientists had invested countless hours ensuring the sterile fruit flies would be fit and attractive to native flies, encouraging them to ‘mate’ without producing offspring.

“Female fruit flies are very astute when it comes to selecting a mate,” he said.

“As a result, our scientists have spent hours developing breeding programs that ensure our sterile Q-flies are the most attractive, best smelling, best ‘singing’ and fittest flies possible.”