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IAEA inaugurates new laboratory to help countries fight insect pests

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) opened the doors of a new laboratory to help countries use a nuclear technique to combat insect pests that spread disease and damage crops, such as mosquitoes and fruit flies.

With over 1,700 square meters of laboratory space, the modern Insect Pest Control Laboratory (IPCL) will substantially increase the Agency’s ability to assist Member States in applying the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). This form of insect birth control uses radiation to sterilize male insects, which are reared in large numbers and released in a target area to mate with wild females. Since they do not produce any offspring, the pest population is reduced over time.

“The IPCL offers a very tangible example of the enormous practical benefits of nuclear science and technology,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said during the inauguration ceremony at the facility in Seibersdorf, located 35 kilometres south-east of Vienna, Austria. “With new and modern facilities, the IPCL will in future be able to do even more to help Member States control insect pests that endanger our crops, our livestock and our health.”

The inauguration marks a milestone in the IAEA’s initiative to modernise its eight nuclear applications laboratories built in Seibersdorf in 1962, a project known as ReNuAL and its follow-up ReNuAL+. The new laboratory will replace the old IPCL at the same site.

The IAEA has so far raised around € 30 million in extra-budgetary funds from different donors, including 31 Member States, for the renovation of the eight laboratories. “I warmly thank all of the donors for their great generosity,” Amano said.

The environmentally-friendly SIT is widely used in countries around the world to keep harmful insects at bay, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and the screwworm fly.

Along with additional space to train experts to support the transfer of SIT to countries, the new IPCL will facilitate research on the application of the technique for different insects, including mosquitoes that transmit malaria, Zika and other diseases.

“I am deeply impressed by what has been achieved in the last year,” said German Ambassador Friedrich Däuble, who is co-Chair of the Friends of ReNuAL group of Member States, together with South African Ambassador Tebogo Seokolo.

“The new building will have more and better-quality space and equipment to improve work-flow and efficiency, and to provide more and better services for Member States,” Däuble added at the inauguration.

The new building will feature a unique 230-square meter ‘Ecosphere’ – a type of greenhouse – to help scientists study the behaviour of the sterilised insects. The old IPCL currently maintains 70 insect species, strains or populations – a unique repository that Member States can draw upon.

“It is only at the IAEA that we are able to witness how multilateral diplomacy on nuclear issues can benefit people directly,” said Indonesian Ambassador Darmansjah Djumala, Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors. “Our challenges ahead are to continue to bring nuclear diplomacy directly to the people by implementing various nuclear application programmes which help people achieve prosperity.”

Earlier this year, the IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), provided assistance to the Dominican Republic to use SIT to eradicate an outbreak of the Mediterranean fruit fly – one of the most damaging agricultural pests in the world that attacks several types of fruits and vegetables. Through the assistance, the Latin American country was able to eradicate the fly within two years, and to regain access to export markets worth US$ 42 million a year.

“The partnership between the IAEA and the FAO is unique,” FAO Assistant Director General Ren Wang said at the event in Seibersdorf. “The joint expertise is often at the forefront of efforts to fight hunger and improve farmer incomes, and the socio-economic impact achieved by the application of these often game-changing technologies is measured in billions of dollars annually.”

Source: IAEA
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