Genetic Engineering

Peter W. Atkinson

University of California, Riverside

David A. O'Brochta

University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute

Tremendous progress has been made in the development of genetic engineering technologies in insects. This article emphasizes studies with the vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster, because, as a result of its successful use as a genetic model for eukaryotic genetic systems, developments in genetic engineering with this species establish a benchmark for what can, or could, be done in other insect species. The article also discusses the more recent use of transposable-element-based genetic transformation procedures in nondrosophilid insects and concludes that many of the tools required for genetic manipulations of nondrosophilid insects are now available.

The term "genetic engineering" is typically taken to refer to the direct manipulation of genes. It has become synonymous with a more general term, "DNA technology," which has come to encompass all contemporary molecular-based techniques. However, many insect geneticists were using "DNA technology" before the development of recombinant DNA technology in the 1970s and 1980s, Genetic control approaches applied to such insect pests as the Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) (medfly), the mosquito (Culex tarsalis), and the Australian sheep blowfly (Lucilia cuprina) used genetics to develop new strains that could be used in insect control and/or eradication programs. The tools of these pioneers were not DNA modification and restriction enzymes, thermocyclers, or DNA sequencers, but rather radiation sources, microscopes, and the knowledge that mutations and chromosomal rearrangements could be created and selected for. These tools have now been surpassed, but one aim remains the same: the generation and application of new genetic strains of insects that can be used to control pest insect species. The development of sophisticated genetic tools, in conjunction with the rapid progress being made in genomics, will provide insect scientists with the ability to characterize and manipulate, in hitherto unimaginable ways, insect genes.

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