Fighting over the fly factory
Ethiopia is developing a new centre to fight the tsetse fly ― transmitter of the livestock disease nagana and the human disease sleeping sickness ― but critics say the scheme faces practical and ethical dilemmas, reports Martin Enserink in this Science article.
The centre will breed millions of male flies, then make them sterile by irradiating them. The hope is that if enough sterile flies are released, then the wild females will attempt to breed with them, thus eventually eliminating the tsetse fly population in Ethiopia.
Although scientists have proven the technique in principle, some allege that the US$12 million already spent on the 'fly factory', as well as future costs, are a waste of money for such a poor country. More established methods like insecticide spraying would work better, critics say.
Critics have also blasted the International Atomic Energy Agency for 'seducing' Ethiopia into using the technique.
But those involved in the project say that conventional techniques will be used to drive the tsetse fly population down to five per cent of the original level, and the sterile insect technique will simply be used to finish it off.
And while Ethiopia breeds its flies, the argument continues.
Reference: Science 317, 310 (2007)
Science doi: 10.1126/science.317.5836.310