As part of sterile insect technique (SIT) programs, irradiation can effectively induce sterility in insects by damaging genomic DNA. However, irradiation also induces other off-target side effects that reduce the quality and performance of sterilized males. Thus, treatments that reduce off-target effects of irradiation on male performance while maintaining sterility can improve the feasibility and economy of SIT programs. Exposure to ionizing radiation induces the formation of damaging free radicals in biological systems that may reduce sterile male performance. Here, we test whether exposure to an anoxic environment for 1 h before and during irradiation improves male performance, while maintaining sterility in males of the cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg). We show that exposure to 1 h of anoxia increases the moth's antioxidant capacity and that irradiation in anoxia after 1 h of anoxic conditioning decreases irradiation-induced oxidative damage to the moth's lipids and proteins. Anoxia treatment that reduced oxidative damage after irradiation also produced moths with greater flight performance, mating success, and longevity, while maintaining F1 male sterility at acceptable levels for SIT. We conclude that anoxia pretreatment followed by irradiation in anoxia is an efficient way to improve the quality of irradiated moths and perhaps lower the number of moths needed for release SIT moth operations.
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