Rancho Santa Fe student wins big as he joins efforts to protect state’s olive crop from fruit fly


RSF resident Matthew Sorge, a seventh grader at Santa Fe Christian Schools, has joined forces with other dedicated researchers at the University of California in the battle to eradicate the olive fruit fly. Matthew challenged himself to determine if the cool winter temperatures in coastal San Diego County affected the ability of the P. humilis to parasitize the olive fruit fly larvae inside the olive fruit.

“A biological control is needed to combat the olive fruit fly because it is threatening California’s $90 million olive industry,” said Matthew.

Matthew conducted his award-winning field research as part of his seventh grade science fair project at Santa Fe Christian. After winning 1st place at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, Matthew went on to compete against nearly 1,000 students from over 400 schools at the California State Science Fair where he won 1st place in zoology. He has also been selected to compete at the national level in the Broadcom Masters Competition, an honor awarded to the top 10 percent of middle school science fair participants. In addition, Matthew captured the attention of the olive oil industry and his results were published in The Olive Oil Source.

Dr. Marshall W. Johnson of UC Riverside assisted him in the carefully controlled study that required laboratory samples to replicate work being conducted in other parts of California. Matthew’s research successfully confirmed his suspicions. His hypothesis that the cool winter temperatures in San Diego County do, affect the olive fruit fly was proved correct.

“Matthew’s findings add one more piece to the puzzle and suggest that it may be possible to adequately manage, but not eradicate, the olive fruit fly over the next several years,” Johnson said. “His findings give us encouragement to continue releases of P. humilis in the San Diego area. I think he has done quite well for a 7th grader.”

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