Researchers were finally able to watch every step of the tsetse fly as it develops from a larvae into an adult with a new imaging technique using near infrared still photographs and time-lapse video. The reason this is such a huge deal is that it means they can now identify male and female tsetse flies before they reach adulthood, giving us a much better chance of controlling their population and saving many lives from the sleeping sickness in the process.
Scientists already use the Sterile Insect Technique, a method where they release sterilized by irradiation into the wild population. However, this new imaging technique will help them make the process much more efficient because they can now sort the males and females earlier and much easier. This will let them keep more females to use for making future sterile males, as well as sterilize more wild males that they can then release into the wild population.
Recognizing the difference between the males and females is a surprisingly difficult task, which is why they haven’t done it till now. They have to look for a slight difference in when the larvae develop their wing pigment. I’m not sure which one starts coloring their wings first, but that just sounds impossible. It’s no wonder they needed this fancy camera to do it.
Have you ever encountered the sleeping sickness or traveled to a country where it is a problem?