Researchers in a New York cabbage patch are planning the first release on American soil of insects genetically engineered to die before they can reproduce.

It’s a pesticide-free attempt to control invasive diamondback moths, a voracious consumer of cabbage, broccoli and other cruciferous crops that’s notorious for its ability to shrug off every new poison in the agricultural arsenal.

“It costs $4-5 billion a year globally to manage this pest,” said Anthony Shelton, a Cornell University researcher who’s been studying the species for 40 years. “If you can manage it without using insecticides that can affect pollinators and other non-target organisms, that’s a real advantage.”

Shelton is doing field tests of gene-altered moths at Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, 160 miles west of Albany. Those experiments began in 2015, but until now were restricted to net-covered plots to keep the moths from straying. Now, he’s awaiting a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release the moths freely in a 10-acre cabbage patch at the research center. He hopes to do that this summer.

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