What is the Sterile Insect Technique?

The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is a method of insect control that involves irradiating the insect with ionizing radiation from toxic isotopes such as Cobalt 60. Although SIT has proven an effective technique to control some agriculturally important insect pests, it does have limitations. One major problem is that irradiating insects can damage their health. If the released males are less healthy than the wild males, they won’t compete well for females, and so aren’t very effective at reducing the population. This has proven a particular problem for mosquitoes as well as for many agricultural pests, such as Olive Fly.

Oxitec’s technology improves the SIT technique by avoiding the use of harmful irradiation which may also cause unpredictable mutations in any surviving progeny. Oxitec’s genetically modified insects don’t require radiation to be made sterile, so the males are fitter – in effect, more ‘attractive’ to females – than irradiated insects. This enables a much more cost-effective and successful release programme.