Sunday, March 28, 2010

86 / Something About Medflies

The Mediterranean fruit fly, or "medfly," can be controlled by the application of chemical pesticides, but many Californians don't like pesticides sprayed on their food. There is another technique of medfly control, called "sterile insect technology" that doesn't use pesticides. As the linked website makes clear, the concept is simple:

You rear large numbers of male insects. Typically this means that the production facility will be producing between tens of millions to billions of males every week.

You sterilize them.
Normally sterilization is performed using irradiation. The irradiators used are similar to those used in hospitals for sterilization of blood products.

You release them in the infested area. Releases are generally made from the air, but can be from the ground. Most programs aim to release sufficient sterile males to outnumber the wild population by a ratio of between 20:1 and 100:1.

Wild females mate with sterile males.
The more sterile males that are released, the greater the chance that wild females will mate with them rather than wild males (females typically mate only once). Females that have mated with a sterile male will go on to lay eggs as normal, but the eggs will not develop. Clearly, if enough females fail to produce viable offspring, the population will decline and eventually collapse.
I was a member of the Board of Supervisors of Santa Cruz County when the "SIT" technique was used by then-Governor Jerry Brown, to control a medfly infestation in nearby Santa Clara County. Ever since, I have evaluated human activities in terms of the "sterile medfly" analogy. Often, I've found, some governmental or other program is just like the control technique used on medflies. Put something out there that seems attractive, and the public will spend all their time screwing around to no purpose, instead of spending their time actually doing something productive.

Non-regulatory and "voluntary" approaches to land use policy always come to mind, but the varieties of such diversionary, and "fruitless," approaches to solving human problems are endless. Time is precious, and we need to make sure we don't waste it, f*#!**ing around with solutions that won't produce a real change.

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