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Nuclear "birth control" helps farmers in Croatia

​(Reuters) - At the height of the tangerine season in Croatia's Neretva river delta, two pickup trucks scour a maze of water channels carrying an odd-looking contraption: a mortar-like pipe spraying orchards with sterilized flies.

Each launch sends into the air thousands of males of the fruit fly, one of the most harmful orchard pests, in what advocates say is a prime example of how nuclear science can benefit both agriculture and the environment.

They have been bombarded with radioactive Cobalt-60 in an Israeli biotechnology plant to make them sterile in a bid to reduce the fly population and the damage they wreak on the crop.

The United Nations' atomic agency says it shows how nuclear technology - more commonly associated with energy or atom bombs - is harnessed to help make an "important contribution" in solving the world's food problems.

Scientists are developing and refining the Sterile Insect Technology (SIT) for different species - including the tsetse fly in Africa - at the Seibersdorf laboratory of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) outside Vienna.

"It is essentially a form of birth control," IAEA head Yukiya Amano said. "The result has been a drop of no less than 75 percent in fruit fly damage" in Neretva, where nine out of ten people are involved in the citrus fruit industry.

Twice a week, between April and November, shipments containing 5 million sterilized male flies reach the fertile valley in southern Croatia, the northernmost point in Europe where tangerines are successfully grown.

Some farmers use boats to spread the male flies in remote areas, part of project which started two years ago to combat a pest that destroyed about a third of the crop.

The sterilized males outnumber the local fruit flies and gradually take the place of normal males. They can mate, but there is no offspring. Consequently, the number of larvae, which feed on ripening tangerines, quickly declines.

For mor information, please, visit the Reuters website.


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