Dr Nina Alphey
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Oxford

Presented by University of Oxford, Department of Zoology and Oxitec Ltd.

Professor Luke Alphey
Chief Scientist, Oxitec Ltd and University of Oxford

Further reading

Pest insects cause enormous harm and economic damage, transmitting many human, animal and plant diseases. Currently insecticide resistance is spreading at the same time as chemicals are being banned and current methods of controlling insects often fail.

Insectbirthcontrol -1-320Genetically-engineered mosquito pupae. Credit: Oxitec

This exhibit is about the pioneering use of genetically modified (GM) insects to control diseases. Under the "sterile insect technique", sterile male insects are released into the environment. Native females that mate with those males have fewer offspring or none at all. If enough sterile males are released for long enough, this can significantly reduce or even eliminate the pest population.

How it works

Dengue fever is a rapidly spreading viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. There are 50-100 million infections each year and the disease is established in over 100 countries. More than 40% of the world's population live in areas at risk. There are no drugs to prevent or cure dengue and a safe, effective vaccine is years away. Bed nets are of little use against the vector mosquito, which bites during daytime.

By using advances in genetic engineering scientists can now extend the sterile insect approach to a wider range of insects, including the mosquito that spreads dengue fever. This exhibit is about the GM methods for mosquito control and is an opportunity to learn more about their biology and talk to the scientists who created them.

Visitors will be able to take part in an ecological activity to estimate how many mosquitoes are in a population and play a computer simulation game to try and control a mosquito-borne disease with the lowest cost and highest benefit.

For further information you can download these pdfs about mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease maps.

Games

Play an online game about reducing the number of mosquitoes in order to solve a disease problem. The competition associated with this game is now closed but you can still play the game.

Lead image: Fluorescent genetically-engineered mosquito larvae. Credit: Oxitec