Insect Pest Control Laboratory (IPCL)

Customers worldwide are increasingly demanding agricultural produce free of pesticide residues and demand for biological pest control methods, including the sterile insect technique (SIT), is rapidly increasing. The environment-friendly SIT pest control method involves the mass rearing of the target insect pests, the sterilisation of the reared insects and their subsequent release. As released sterile males mate with wild virgin females no offspring are produced, eventually causing the native pest population to decline or become extinct. The research and development activities at the IPCL are aimed at developing, improving and validating the use of the SIT as a component of area-wide integrated pest management programmes against select insect pests. In these endeavours, the IPCL is recognised worldwide as the pivotal global centre for research and development related to the SIT.

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Division Control of plant pests Fruit flies are among the most devastating pests of agricultural crops, and their presence in Member States has significant consequences for international trade. Research at the IPCL focused initially on the Mediterranean fruit fly. As the SIT technology for this species matured, focus in the last decade has widened to other fruit fly pests. The IPCL maintains more than 35 strains of fruit flies as an important repository for Member States, including several genetic sexing strains and more than 200 mutant strains. Its current focus is on the Anastrepha (Latin American) and Bactrocera (African and Asian) pest species; the improvement of male quality using hormonal, semiochemical and dietary supplements; the mating competitiveness and compatibility of strains; the assessment of transgenic strains; the cytogenetic and productivity characterization of genetic sexing strains; and the study of symbionts and pathogens.

Control of livestock pests Tsetse flies are considered one of the root causes of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. They are blood-feeding insects that transmit parasites that cause sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in livestock. There are 8-10 tsetse species of economic importance that seriously impede the development of sustainable and efficient livestock production systems. The IPCL maintains colonies of five tsetse fly species, while its research focuses on the development of semi-automated feeding and holding units; understanding the biology of the salivary gland hypertrophy virus to enable the development of virus management strategies; methods to enhance vector refractoriness; the development of a pupal sexing system using near-infrared spectroscopy; the development of alternative blood decontamination methods; and the evaluation of x-ray irradiator systems for insect sterilization.

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Division Control of mosquitoes Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya are among the most devastating human health problems. The parasites and viruses are transmitted by the female mosquitoes and are responsible for more than one million deaths each year. They are also a major obstacle to the UN's poverty reduction efforts. The IPCL recently embarked on an assessment of the feasibility of developing a SIT package for the control of selected species of mosquitoes. Its research focuses on the development of mass-rearing equipment and quality control techniques; the study of symbionts; radiation sensitivity studies; and an assessment of the competitiveness of sterile male mosquitoes.

Genetic sexing methodologies The SIT invariably relies on the ability of released sterile male insects to effectively compete and mate with native female counterparts. The release of sterile females in most cases reduces the efficiency of the technique and is a substantial additional financial burden to the cost of mass rearing. The IPCL has therefore developed genetic sexing strains, including one based on female temperature sensitivity in Mediterranean fruit flies, that enable the separation of males from females as early as possible in the life cycle and which is currently utilized in virtually all SIT programmes against this pest. The IPCL is currently working to develop similar genetic sexing mechanisms in mosquitoes.

For more information visit Insect Pest Control Laboratory webpage.