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Completed project

SITplus: Raising Qfly sterile insect technique to world standard (HG14033)

Key research provider: Macquarie University
Publication date: Monday, May 31, 2021

What was it all about?

The sterile insect technique (SIT) is used around the world to control many pest insects, including fruit flies, and such programs are supported by significant investment in R&D. By comparison, Queensland fruit fly (Qfly) SIT was previously poorly developed and not suitable for deployment as a mainstream control option – but this project and others in the Hort Frontiers Fruit Fly Fund have made significant progress in addressing this. A substantial R&D effort has been made to raise Qfly SIT to world standard and to establish SIT as a mainstream Qfly control option for use in area-wide management (AWM) programs.

From 2015 to 2021, this investment was tasked with bringing both the technology and scientific underpinning of Qfly SIT and AWM up to world standard as quickly as possible, to meet the schedule required to ensure that the SITplus initiative, and the SA Qfly SIT facility, succeed in delivering viable and sustainable solutions to Australian growers. SIT programs typically take one to two decades to get to an advanced stage of development, whereas using the strategic partnerships available through Hort Frontiers, the timeline was significantly accelerated to just a handful of years.

Given its extensive remit, this program was large and complex, involving researchers and activity across the SITplus program. The approach was integrative and collaborative, with broad participation from across the wide-ranging SITplus consortium to make the best use of available expertise and facilities across institutions. This program was structured to support the many diverse processes involved in an effective SIT program. This diversity of needs meant the program operated contained 26 distinct projects, each with its own leadership, team and resources.

Overall, this program has supported significant advances in Qfly SIT, not only closing the gap to overseas programs but in many project areas advancing Qfly SIT to a world-leading position.

The effectiveness of this program’s efforts has been seen in the success of related projects such as Post factory pilot of SITplus fly production (FF17001), which translates the knowledge gained from this project into trial operations. The broad knowledge-based provided through this program, and the advances made in the understanding of Qfly ecology, behaviour and genetics, provides a tremendous benchmark for the development of future innovations in SIT and other sustainable management tools.

To ensure that the research findings are of a high standard, and are available to future researchers, managers, and trade negotiators, the vast majority of work undertaken through this project will be published in international peer-reviewed scientific literature, with over 80 publications already in circulation.

In addition to meeting the immediate and strategic needs of Qfly SIT R&D, this project trained the next generation of fruit fly and biosecurity researchers for Australia. A host of PhD students and Research Fellows were involved in the research, working across the various institutions involved.