I am a molecular biologist working on novel strategies to control Ceratitis capitata, also known as “medfly”, a global agricultural pest of more than 250 species of fruits and vegetables. The medfly is the most important pest affecting fresh fruits and vegetables within the Eastern Mediterranean basin. Under current treatment programs, the medfly is thought to contribute 298 million USD worth of crop damage per year in this area alone.
During my PhD (2014-2017), I worked under the supervision of Prof. Giuseppe Saccone. I have carried out studies of genomic and transcriptomic in Ceratitis capitata, focusing on few aspects of genetic research which also have ramifications in the applicative field. I focused on the identification of embryonic genes with male-specific expression, amongst which is the primary masculinization signal of sex determination, that we have called Maleness on the Y (MoY). We found that MoY is functionally conserved in the olive fruit fly and in the invasive oriental fruit fly. This discovery has a tremendous potential for insect genetic control based on mass release of sterile males and for future strategies based on gene drive.
I contributed to the Ceratitis capitata genome project and has pioneered DNA-free genome-editing by CRISPR/Cas9 in the medfly and the olive fruit fly.
During my post-doc period (2017-2019) in Nikolai Windbichler’s lab, I successfully obtained a APHA/DEFRA licence for import and contained use of Ceratitis capitata and established the CRISPR/Cas9 and Cas12a systems for endogenous use in the germline of the medfly.
I have been awarded a prestigious 4-year Imperial College Research Fellowship (ICRF2020) that allows me to work on development of efficient genetic approaches of pest control that have the potential for transferability to other agriculture species using medfly as model insect.