The first “Olympic” sterile insects reared in a high-tech factory in South Australia have been released into the wild to help combat Queensland fruit flies.

The trial release on the outskirts of Adelaide, where the destructive pest was detected earlier this year, will be followed by the first official release in April, when 2 million of the tiny winged weapons will be dropped from the sky.

Dan Ryan, from Hort Innovation which is managing the project, says it is a remarkable technology that poses no risk to anything other than Queensland fruit flies.

“What we’re doing is producing flies, sterilising them, releasing them into the wild to mate with the wild population. You don’t get any babies, the population crashes and, hey presto, the problem goes away,” Mr Ryan said.

Sterile fruit flies are pictured waking up after they are released.

As well as creating a new type of food for the factory flies that increases production rates and decreases waste, it is running dozens of other tests to try and give the laboratory flies a leg up over their wilder competitors.

“We’re giving them all sorts of supplements … even caffeine, which accelerates their development and gets them into the mating at a younger age,” Professor Phil Taylor from Macquarie University said.

“This is really important because we want them to get straight out there and into the mating arena.”

Even the calling songs of the factory-reared and wild fruit flies are being compared to make sure the males are making the right sounds to attract the ladies.

“It’s a very competitive environment in these cages in the factory and they really need to make a big effort there with all these other males around.”

The factory is currently producing 2 million sterile fruit flies a week, with production ramping up in the coming weeks and expected to reach 50 million a week by 2019.

Fruit Fly larvae seen in soil in the Port Augusta facility

The good flies will initially be used to mop up small outbreaks in states or areas with a pest free status, after baiting programs have been carried out.

“In the case of a pest-free area, if you’ve got an incursion then this help is vital,” Mr Ryan said.

“The cost once you’ve got fruit fly established to the grower is enormous.”

Mixed response from growers

The project has received a mixed response from growers, who currently rely on trapping, baiting, cover spraying and cold treatments to manage Queensland fruit fly populations and access markets.

Vince Demaria

“At the moment the production levels that they’re talking about wouldn’t make a dent in places like Sunraysia, Goulburn Valley or the MIA [Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area],” Mildura citrus grower Vince Demaria said.

“In the commercial areas there would need to be a lot of work on the ground before ‘steriles’ could be introduced.”

The factory is part of a five-year, $45 million program to produce an integrated, pest-management solution to Queensland fruit fly.

But Hillston citrus grower Peter Ceccato has welcomed news the first growing region to be flooded with the flies in a trial release later this year will be around his hometown in western NSW.

“I’m quite confident it will make a difference,” Mr Ceccato said.

“I think this is what’s come up onto the market at the moment. Let’s give it a go and try it.”

Original article by ABC News

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