A red fly in green circle with the word SITplus below

SITplus - providing a solution to tackle the Queensland fruit fly.

Partnering to find a solution to Australia's Q-fly problem

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

  • 18 March 2014 | Updated 22 September 2014

A major horticultural pest

Fruit flies are a large group of insect pests that damage fruit and vegetables globally with significant economic implications for horticultural production and market access.

Sustainable management of fruit fly is of central concern to Australia’s $6.9 billion horticultural industries, which capitalise on both domestic and international trade (Draft National Fruit Fly Strategy 2008).

While there are many species of fruit fly in Australia, two are significant pests and inflict serious damage. These include the native Queensland fruit fly (Bactocera tryoni) in eastern Australia, and the introduced Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) in Western Australia.

South Australia is the only mainland Australian state that is fruit fly free.

Queensland fruit fly, or Q-fly, is 8mm in length, highly mobile and capable of infecting a wide range of major fruit and vegetable crops. 

The spread of Q-fly inflicts significant costs on producers through management controls, lost production and reduced interstate and overseas export opportunities.  These costs all eventually flow through to consumers and taxpayers.

Until recently, farmers located in areas where Q-fly is present have used agri-chemicals – such as dimethoate and fenthion – to prevent and manage incursions and to access interstate and overseas markets. However, after a long period of review, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority recently restricted the use of these insecticides.   

Partnering for impact

CSIRO realised there was a need to address Australia’s Q-fly issue and invested in and undertook strategic research around fruit fly management. 

After studying a number of control and management approaches, sterile insect technology (SIT) was identified as a potential solution to managing Q-fly in Australia.

CSIRO is now working with industry and government in a five-year, A$15 million project focused on developing a male only, sterile line of Q-fly using RNA interference (RNAi) as well as other approaches to producing sterile male files.

The SITPlus project team includes:

  • CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship
  • Horticulture Australia Ltd
  • Plant & Food Research Australia
  • Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
  • New South Wales Department of Primary Industries
  • Macquarie University.

In addition to the R&D investment, the South Australian government is planning to build a A$3 million purpose built facility in Port Augusta, to produce the sterile flies, with construction due to begin in the 2014-15 financial year.

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 has been used successfully around the world and in South Australia to combat isolated outbreaks of Mediterranean fruit fly.

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

The outcome is a dramatic reduction in the number of larvae laid in fruit or vegetable crops and can lead to local eradication.

Smart technology – the plus in SITPlus

When you’re looking to deploy sterile male flies to disrupt the mating cycle, knowing where the Q-fly 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 Q-flies 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.

Learn more about the Biosecurity Flagship.

 Logo for Horticulture Australia  Plant&Food Research logo Logo of Primary Industries and Regions in South Australia
 Red flower and blue writing NSW Department of Primary Industries  Macquarie University Logo