"Although this assumption is widespread, data to support this contention is actually thin," said Professor ffrench-Constant. He believes previous work may not have looked at genetically related strains and that 'costs' may therefore be associated with the differing genetic backgrounds of insects examined, and not the resistance genes themselves.
"Experimenters looking at genetic fitness in resistant insects often only look at single character traits such as number of eggs laid, and often compare resistant and susceptible lines that are genetically unrelated.
"Differences in fitness therefore often correspond to differences in genetic background rather and are not due to the resistance gene itself."
Using DDT-resistant fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) in state-of-the-art controlled temperature rooms provided by the Wolfson Trust, Caroline McCart, a PhD student in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University, went to great lengths to make sure that DDT resistant and susceptible strains differed only by the resistance gene itself.
Using antibiotics they also 'cured' the flies of the microbes that are known to affect their ability to reproduce and could affect the results.
In order to assess the genetic fitness of both the resistant and susceptible strains, the researchers monitored the survival and development rate of all life stages of their offspring.
They found that DDT resistance in fruit flies not only carries no cost but in fact confers an advantage when inherited through the female.
This discovery comes at a time when a number of developing nations, including South Africa, are considering re-introducing (or continuing the use of) DDT in an attempt to reduce the major health problems caused by malaria.