3149: Molecular basis of response to (sub)lethal stresses

Project Number


Project Type & Status


Project Leader


Kelly Hill
Alexi Papanicolaou
Kay Jutamat Anantanawat
Associate Professor YongLin Ren

Impact Delivery Themes

3149: Molecular basis of response to (sub)lethal stresses

What is the problem?

Tephritid fruit fly, including Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni) and Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata), cause major production losses in fruit and vegetables and have a huge impact on world trade in horticultural products. Their economic consequences are so severe that countries free of the major tephritids (Chile, Japan, New Zealand and USA) prohibit the import of fresh produce from countries where these pests are established. Thus the impact on Australian horticulture is significant.
With the loss of chemical control options such as Fenthion and Dimethoate for post-harvest treatment of commodities susceptible to fruit fly infestation, it has become even more important to understand how stress-based control techniques such as heat, cold and irradiation can be used most effectively to kill fruit fly. To do this, we need to understand the biological response of the flies to these treatments.

Project summary

This research tested the molecular-level response of fruit fly to various stressors, and used this knowledge to refine disinfestation approaches. To this end, the team conducted bioassays and RNA sequencing to identify the genes responsible for stress or recovery in fruit fly; constructed gene networks to identify pathway membership and relationships; and finally validated how specific genes were involved in stress response.
Based on these findings the team then built the first picture of stress- response networks for tephritid fruit flies. This included mapping the cellular pathways of the fruit fly that are involved in stress-specific responses, primarily focussed on the mechanisms of cell death. This research informs post-harvest disinfestation by identifying possible combinations of stressors for optimum response and potential increased effectiveness and longevity to control fruit fly.


The project has provided new knowledge on the disinfestation mechanisms for two of Australia’s most economically destructive horticultural pests. This understanding will enable more effective approaches to be trialled for pre-export treatment and assist in market access negotiations with trade partners. Growers will benefit from more efficient treatment alternatives for fruit fly control and reduced treatment costs. Less use of toxic chemicals is of direct benefit to both the environment and to people. Additionally the new treatment methods decrease the likelihood of tephritid flies developing resistance to disinfestation treatments, thus avoiding the cost and time associated with the development of new treatments.
The research underpins the development of next generation tools to safeguard fresh produce from fruit fly damage. The findings provide Australia’s National Fruit Fly Strategy with the scientific basis to develop new post-harvest controls in fruit fly.

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