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Research Spotlight: RNA virus diversity and prevalence in Australian tephritid fruit flies

Fruit Fly ITTC funded postgraduate student Stephen Sharpe is conducting research, as part of his PhD, on the diversity of fruit fly entomopathogens that are relevant for the development of novel fruit fly control at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University). Stephen is studying the virus diversity and prevalence of Australian tephritids in laboratory and field populations. He explains that although a Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) program is currently under development in Australia for the control of the Queensland fruit fly (Q-fly), little is known about pathogens that can affect the mass production of the flies, and conversely, these pathogens can be useful microbial control agents.

As a member of a team led by A/Prof. Markus Riegler, Stephen has analysed transcriptome data for RNA viruses across multiple Australian tephritid species and characterised their diversity in phylogenetic analyses. He has also developed molecular diagnostics tools to detect the viruses and their transmission in laboratory and field populations, sampled in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. Stephen is currently investigating the host effects of these RNA viruses and whether they affect fruit fly health in mass-rearing important in SIT.

Stephen's findings were presented during the last annual HDR Forum at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.

Photo: Stephen Sharpe rearing fruit flies at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University).