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Researching fruit fly in Europe

Dr Mark Schutze with one of his fruit fly traps  In July 2009, CRC project leader, Associate Professor Tony Clarke, QUT based CRC post-doctoral fellow Dr Mark Schutze and Lincoln University’s Dr Karen Armstrong were three of only 11 people worldwide invited to participate in an international fruit fly consultants meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN/FAO).

Following this meeting, Dr Mark Schutze was invited back to Vienna to conduct cross-mating and developmental trials on four different fruit fly species. Mark left Australia in early April to begin his six months research and will be based in the Entomology Section of the UN/FAO IAEA Seibersdorf laboratories, located about 45 minutes from Vienna, Austria.

Travelling to Europe is not entirely unfamiliar territory for Mark as he has a German family background, and is pleased to note that this provides an added advantage of having relatives in Europe! To prepare for his trip, Mark brushed up on his German language skills by crashing through a six month course at the University of Queensland last semester. Despite these modest advantages, Mark says the prospect of six months in Austria remains as daunting as it is exciting.

Mark’s not the only one who has had to make the long journey to Vienna. To assist with his research, fruit fly species from south-east Asia and Suriname in South America are being shipped to the research laboratories. The experiments on these flies are an important component of resolving species boundaries between closely related and taxonomically challenging pest fruit flies of the Bactrocera dorsalis species complex.

The work Mark is undertaking in Vienna forms a key component of the research he is conducting as part of the CRC project he is employed on; in that the problem is being addressed in a holistic way. The live-insect trials on the Asian and South American species will be directly linked with genetic work being undertaken by Deb Hailstones at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (NSW) and Karen Armstrong in New Zealand, together with morphological and morphometric data Mark has been compiling in Brisbane. Once together, this project will provide us with our best chance at resolving boundaries for the target species.

While Mark’s visit to Austria is to specifically work towards the CRC project, the work is intimately tied to an international effort to understand fruit fly cryptic species complexes. The international project, initiated by the IAEA, similarly focuses on resolving cryptic fruit fly species complexes but from a Sterile Insect Technique perspective. Coupled with the work in Austria and in Australia, there is now a worldwide effort to cooperate in understanding these systems. Researchers from regions such as Asia, South America, Europe, New Zealand, and North America are now involved in the broader IAEA cooperative research project (of which Associate Professor Tony Clarke of QUT and Karen Armstrong of Lincoln University are also involved with).

Mark says that besides getting the laboratory work knocked over, being placed in the IAEA laboratories in the centre of Europe presents enormous opportunities not available at home.

“The labs themselves are a tremendous mix of international researchers from all over the globe, so it will be a great opportunity to exchange ideas and to develop intellectually. Additionally, there are European conferences, seminars, and universities that I hope to attend and present at which ordinarily I would not be able to given the expenses involved in travelling to and from Europe and Australia”, he said.

We congratulate Mark on this outstanding opportunity and wish him all the best with his research. We look forward to catching up with Mark on his return and keeping our readers up-to-date with his trip.

Photo caption: Dr Mark Schutze with one of his fruit fly traps