The global soft fruit industry faces a growing crisis from the invasive fruit fly, spotted wing drosophila (SWD), which pierces ripening fruit to lay eggs, causing up to 80% fruit loss. The potential market in Europe and USA for SWD control is £11 billion. Currently, high value, healthy fresh crops like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are protected with chemical insecticides. In the UK these require annual emergency permits for SWD; all major markets have increasing regulatory constraints. The limited choice of chemicals increases the risk of insecticide resistance and promotes the urgency for alternative control approaches.
Existing non-chemical treatments are insufficient to prevent devastating crop loss. The sterile insect technique (SIT) is a proven way to control invasive pests; sterile males are released to mate with wild females and so reduce pest populations. SIT is species-specific and non-toxic, so protects biodiversity including pollinators; it is also non-GM and compatible with organic agriculture. SIT can improve crop yield and quality compared to chemicals.
BigSIS will be the first company in the world to conduct open field trials with male-only sterile SWD; releasing female SWD would damage fruit and require releasing 3-5x more sterile males. BigSIS has a proprietary sterile male insect production platform that rears insects individually, using robotics and artificial intelligence, to solve cost-effectively the challenges of traditional SIT; this revolutionary approach can accurately discard females using computer vision and leave males fitter after sterilisation. Furthermore, it uses local insect strains to minimise regulatory hurdles - no permit is needed for trials or sales of the BigSIS SWD solution in England.
STOP-SPOT: new sustainable solution to save healthy fruit from Spotted Wing Drosophila
This project is a collaboration between BigSIS, NIAB and British Gardens Growers (BGG).
As a world first for SWD control with SIT in field conditions, this project aims to determine the number of sterile males and frequency of releases suitable for a range of commercial settings. If successful, this will lead to commercial launch in 2023 in the UK.
NIAB is a world-leading authority on the ecology of SWD and its expertise can help BigSIS short-cut the development of effective treatment protocols. Working with BigSIS will maintain NIAB at the forefront of SWD management know-how. Berry Gardens Growers is the UK's leading berry organisation with over 30% market share; they will provide commercial insights and field trial locations. BGG will benefit through timely first-hand experience of the innovative BigSIS SWD solution.
Innovate UK Smart Grants
May 2021 – September 2022
Press release from BigSIS: Start-up hails success of chemical free insect control trial (29 November 21)
Contact us by michelle.fountain [at] niab.com (email )with comments, questions or suggestions. We look forward in hearing from you.