21_Oxitec

For fighting bugs with bugs, and saving human lives.

This offshoot of Oxford University's zoology department makes sneaky bug birth control. Goal No. 1: eradicate dengue fever, which kills 22,000 and permanently harms 500,000 people a year.

Step 1 / Genetically engineer bugs
"We make sure the next generation can't breed," says CEO Hadyn Parry. It engineers male mosquitoes and then releases them. They breed with wild females; the resulting hatchlings die young.

Step 2 / Show it works
On the island of Grand Cayman, the breeding project cut the population of dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by 80%. Oxitec had similar results elsewhere. And in 2012, the journal Nature Biotechnology published a study indicating the solution has no negative side effects on local ecosystems.

Step 3 / Solve new problems
With its plan proven, Oxitec recently began testing on olive flies, cotton pest moths, and fruit flies--all pests that destroy crops in the developing world. (The Mediterranean fruit fly alone attacks more than 260 plants.) Oxitec is now seeking funding.

[Illustration By Owen Gildersleeve, Photograph By Victoria Ling]

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