Our Friendly™ Technology provides a responsible method of controlling insect pests that spread disease or damage crops.
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Our insects contain a self-limiting gene, and when this gene is passed on to their offspring, offspring do not survive to adulthood, resulting in a reduction in the pest insect population.
We call this method “self-limiting” because the released insects and the self-limiting gene that they pass on are designed to die and disappear from the environment.
We release males, because it is the female insects that are directly responsible for spreading disease or producing larvae that damage crops. Our males have one job: to find wild females where they live and mate with them.
This method can be applied to all kinds of insect pests, from the mosquitoes that transmit such diseases as dengue and Zika, to moth caterpillars that destroy maize fields. We’ve created our insects using precise genetic engineering tools. They are just like wild insects, except we’ve inserted two additional genes.
The self-limiting gene prevents offspring of our released male insect from surviving to adulthood, and a fluorescent marker gene produces a protein throughout the body of the insects, which glows when exposed to a specific colour of light. This helps us to track our insects in the wild.
Benefits of our technology
Our insects only target their own species. They will not harm other, beneficial insects – unlike some other methods of control.
Our technology does not use any chemicals that are harmful to the environment, and it has no harmful effects on beneficial insect species.
The self-limiting system means that our self-limiting gene cannot establish in the ecosystem.
The proteins of our introduced genes do not produce any toxins or allergens, making them safe for use in any environment.
Our innovative production technologies are being developed with the potential for efficiently rearing our insects at a large scale.
Our self-limiting insects can be used as part of integrated pest management programs and can be used as a stand-alone solution.
The Self-Limiting Gene
The self-limiting gene is at the heart of our method of insect control. When our male insects are released and reproduce with wild females, all of their offspring inherit a copy of this gene. The self-limiting gene disrupts the proper functioning of the insects’ cells by over-producing a protein in them, interfering with the cells’ ability to produce other essential proteins needed for development. So by disrupting the insect’s normal development, the gene prevents it from surviving to adulthood.
Since the self-limiting gene works by using the insect’s own biology against itself, our control method provides a solution that only affects that particular species of pest without introducing harmful toxins.
We have also designed our insects so that we can turn off the self-limiting gene with an antidote called tetracycline. This allows us to breed our insects at a large scale without the need for any additional genetic engineering. Our 2nd Generation Friendly™ Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, for example, were engineered in 2013, and we have been breeding the strain from those original mosquitoes ever since!
The Fluorescent Marker
We have also introduced a marker gene into our insects, which produces a fluorescent protein called DsRed2. Like the self-limiting gene, it is inherited by all offspring. This protein is found throughout the body of the larvae, pupae and adults, and glows red under a special light. As a result, with the right equipment you can easily tell our insects apart from wild ones. DsRed2 is non-toxic and non-allergenic.
The marker gene is vital for a control program, as it allows us to easily identify the offspring of our insects and enables us to track-and-trace them in the wild. By examining larvae from the field, we can see how many are offspring of our self-limiting insects and how many are wild ones. This makes it a valuable tool for quality control in production and for effective monitoring in the field. We then use that data to tailor our releases and ensure we achieve optimal pest suppression.
Partners and Funders
Oxitec’s technology has been studied by scientists worldwide for more than a decade in a range of countries and projects. Please find a select list of the 100+ peer-reviewed, scientific journal articles and papers published about our technology. Publications are organised by year for easy reference.