lightly crisped kale chips

Genetically Engineered Moths May Save Kale Chips

Cornelia Poku
Cornelia Poku
February 7, 2020

Sea salt kale chips, bacon brussels sprouts, and buffalo cauliflower wings are under threat.

Environmental activists will have you believe the biggest threat to our food system is pesticides. That’s not true, in fact, it’s insects—the very reason most pesticides are necessary. Insects are such a dangerous issue that Somalia recently declared a state of emergency as an “unprecedented” swarm of locusts is raising alarms about famine.

Climate change has led to a rampant increase in bugs like locusts and moths, that threaten our food, and mosquitoes and ticks, that threaten people.

A recent CNN article explains that diamondback moths are one of the most damaging insects because of their high reproduction rate and resistance to most insecticides.

Diamondback moths can ravage an entire harvest of popular veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and collard greens; causing billions of dollars in damages, threatening to destroy small farmers’ yields for the year, and creating food shortages. That’s unacceptable in today’s rapidly growing world.

Anthony Shelton, entomology professor at Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences discusses one of the solutions in development to help diminish pest populations humanely.

From the same people who developed “FriendlyTM Mosquitoes,” genetically engineered diamondback moths are the latest development to curve the devastating impacts insects have on people and planet. Genetically modified moths living and mating with wild moths will help suppress the overall population. 

In a recent study, researchers found that the GE moths were virtually unidentifiable from their native peers. They looked the same, behaved the same, and even had similar life spans. The primary difference is that GE moths have a “self-limiting gene that makes female offspring die shortly after hatching,” according to the CNN piece. The plan is to continue to release these moths in batches so that

“…[W]ild female moths that mate with GE moths will not produce viable offspring -- the self-limiting gene passed to offspring prevents them from surviving, leading the authors to conclude that with ongoing releases, pests can be suppressed in a targeted, sustainable way without using insecticides.

The GE moths would eventually have no one to mate with, which means they would decline as well and disappear from the environment within a few generations,” 

This is fantastic news for both farmers and consumers.

With a smaller or nonexistent population of certain pests, farmers can rely significantly less on crop protections tools like chemical insecticides. There are still several trials to be run, but if this works, GE diamondback moths – along with GE mosquitos – may lead to additional innovations in more sustainable insect control.

Read the CNN article here and to learn more about how biotechnology is saving our food systems, check out our blog on gene-edited bananas.