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Genetic catalogue of the insect pests found on olives

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A genetic catalogue of the insect pests found on wild and cultivated olive tree species in South Africa is being compiled by a small team of geneticists in the Faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) and their South African and overseas collaborators. The team has completed their efforts on olive flies and wasps, and now also hope to extend their work to olive lace bugs and flea beetles.

The work is being led by Dr Barbara van Asch of the Department of Genetics in the Faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University. It is linked to research projects she was involved in at the University of Porto in Portugal, before moving to South Africa and Stellenbosch University in 2015.

“Knowing which insect species there are, and how to definitively identify one from another is of value to both the agricultural and environmental sectors,” says Dr van Asch. “It helps the industry keep tabs on the introduction of potentially harmful or invasive species into local orchards.”

To identify insect species purely on specific visual cues generally requires great skill and the dedication of a specialised taxonomist. In recent years, this process has been made easier thanks to molecular and genetic research tools which allow researchers to distinguish between different species based on each one’s definitive DNA barcodes.

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