Partnering to find a solution to Australia’s Qfly problem

CSIRO is working with industry and government to find a solution to Australia's Queensland fruit fly problem.

The Challenge

Q-fly - a major horticultural pest

Although only 8mm in length the Queensland fruit fly, or Qfly, is a highly mobile insect capable of infesting a wide range of major fruit and vegetable crops, including stone and tropical fruits.

Qfly is the highest priority biosecurity pest for a broad range of horticultural industries where it can inflict significant costs on producers through increased management costs, lost production and reduced export opportunities. 

The spread of Qfly in Australia’s eastern states is threatening our nations A$6.9 billion horticultural industry, which relies on both domestic and international trade.

Farmers located in areas where Qfly is present have, until recently, used agri-chemicals – such as dimethoate and fenthion – to prevent and manage incursions. However, after a long period of review, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority recently restricted the use of these insecticides, which means farmers have lost an important means of managing the problem.

Our Response

Partnering for impact

Without alternative chemical control options there is a need for a more integrated approach to ensure fruit fly Qfly does not create a more significant economic and market access burden for producers.

After studying a number of control and management approaches, sterile insect technology (SIT) was identified as a potential solution to managing Qfly in Australia. SIT has been used successfully overseas on other fruit fly species, and is used successfully in South Australia and Western Australia on Mediterranean fruit fly.

A $22 million research consortium has been established to develop a male only sterile Qfly to manage damaging Qfly populations. This partnership includes:

  • Horticulture Australia (HAL)
  • CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship
  • Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA)
  • Plant and Food Research Australia (PFRA)
  • New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI)
  • Macquarie University.

The South Australian government has committed an extra A$3 million to establish a facility to breed the flies for use in SIT programs in South Australia and then in many parts of Australia.

The Results

Sterile insect technology

SIT is a scientifically proven method for suppressing or eradicating fruit fly populations and managing their potential impacts in horticulture production areas.

SIT involves the production of large numbers of sterile male flies that, when released into the natural environment, mate with females so that no offspring are produced. 

A new approach being trialled in this project will see our scientists applying RNA interference (RNAi) technology to the challenge of developing a male only, sterile line of Qfly. The major benefit of this approach is that the health of the sterile flies is not compromised as can be the case when using other methods and it does not involve the creation of transgenic insects

Smart technology – the plus in SITplus

When you are looking to deploy sterile male flies to disrupt the mating cycle, knowing where the Qfly goes to reproduce is a critical piece of the puzzle.

To answer this question, CSIRO scientists will attach tiny radio frequency identification devices to the backs of Qflies to reveal the secrets within their life cycle.

The information gathered through the sensors will improve understanding of the ecology and behaviour of fruit flies.

It will be used to plan how many sterile flies will be needed and where and when to release them for the best results.

It will also provide information to make better use of other management options such as new trapping systems and pheromone baits.

The combination of new approaches, employing RNAi with SIT and the use of micro-sensor technology offers a long-term sustainable and cost effective approach to assist with managing this damaging pest.

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