Oxitec’s Genetic Technology Provides a New and Improved Approach to Controlling Cotton Pest Moth

June 12, 2012

Oxitec’s novel genetic fluorescent marking technology can substantially improve control of the cotton pest moth, pink bollworm, according to findings of a study published in the journal ‘PLoS ONE’.

Working in partnership with the US Department of Agriculture, Oxitec scientists have shown that using their novel genetic marker in sterilised pink bollworm could provide an invaluable means of tracking the progress of control efforts against this globally important pest.

The sterile insect technique (SIT), which depends on the mass-release of sterilised male insects, has been used for decades to control this moth over 1 million acres of cotton in the United States. Today, billions of sterilised insects are released each week to enable species-specific, environmentally friendly pest control for a range of pests around the world.

To properly track the pest population during SIT treatment, sterile insects need to be clearly marked before release and this can be problematic and unreliable. In pink bollworm SIT, the dye used to mark moths can be difficult to see. Mistaken identity of a sterile as a wild moth can lead to unnecessary and expensive supplementary control efforts.

Oxitec’s solution is simple: by transforming the moth with a gene that produces a fluorescent protein, the moths are clearly marked.

Commenting on the study, Oxitec’s Dr Neil Morrison said “This is another example of how Oxitec’s technology is providing innovative solutions to pest control problems. Mis-identification of wild insects in a sterile insect programme greatly increases the costs of the control programme. Oxitec’s novel marker system solves this problem.”

This paper reports that the fluorescent gene allows easy visual identification of sterile insects, backed up by fast and 100% reliable molecular screening. These findings follow multiple years of field testing of the marked strain, the first open-field release of a genetically modified insect, which were published in the same journal in 2011 (Simmons and authors).

Oxitec are following this with the development of a more advanced strain that avoids the need for sterilisation by irradiation. Dr Morrison added:

“We have developed a next-generation product is, in effect, genetically sterile. It will result in better quality insects and will soon be available to cotton growers with a pink bollworm problem.”

Notes to editors:

The publication ‘Field longevity of a fluorescent protein marker in an engineered strain of the pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders)’ can be found on


About Oxitec ()

Oxitec is a British company pioneering a new approach to combating insects that spread disease and damage crops. The Oxitec solution harnesses advanced genetics to create ‘sterile’ male insects to mate with females of the same species resulting in a population decline. Currently, insect pest control in both public health and agriculture focuses on the use of chemical pesticides. ┬áInsect-transmitted diseases include Malaria, Dengue and West Nile Virus. ┬áIt is also estimated that despite the use of pesticides some 20-40% of food production is lost to insects.