Development of genetic sexing strains in Lepidoptera: From traditional to transgenic approaches

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The sterile insect technique (SIT) is currently being used for the control of many agricultural pests, including some lepidopteran species. The SIT relies on the rearing and release of large numbers of genetically sterile insects into a wild population. The holokinetic chromosomes of Lepidoptera respond differently to radiation than do species where there is a localized centromere. This difference has enabled a variation of the SIT to be developed for Lepidoptera where a substerilizing dose of radiation is given to the insects before their release with the result that a certain level of sterility is inherited by the F1 offspring. The development of genetic sexing strains for fruit flies, enabling the release of males only, has resulted in enormous economic benefits in the mass rearing and has increased the efficiency of the field operations severalfold. This article outlines Mendelian approaches that are currently available to separate large numbers of males and females efficiently for different lepidopteran species and describes their difficulties and constraints. Successful transgenesis in several lepidopteran species opens up new possibilities to develop genetic sexing strains. The proposal to develop genetic sexing strains described in this article takes advantage of the fact that in Lepidoptera, the female is the heterogametic sex, with most species having a WZ sex chromosome pair, whereas the males are ZZ. This means that if a conditional lethal gene can be inserted into the W chromosome, then all females should die after the application of the restrictive condition. The assumptions made to accommodate this model are discussed, and the advantages to be gained for control programs are elucidated.

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Journal of Economic Entomology