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]