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1-min read

What is Sterile Insect Technique and How Does it Control Mosquito Population?

Scientists at the biotech firm Oxitec Ltd. set out to use genetic tools to modernize the decades-old strategy of Sterile Insect Technique (SIT).

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Updated:October 31, 2019, 11:29 PM IST
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What is Sterile Insect Technique and How Does it Control Mosquito Population?
Representative image (Getty)

Mosquitoes can be very harmful as they serve as carriers for several diseases like malaria, yellow fever, Zika virus, and dengue. These diseases are not as rare and exotic as they may sound. In fact, their prevalence is increasing over the years.

A report by Genetic Literacy Project stated the example of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, better known as EEE. This year has seen seven deaths due to EEE, which is also a mosquito borne disease. In some cases, EEE results in no symptoms at all; in others, it’s a bit like having the flu.

The report further said talked about what makes EEE deadly. It can cause inflammation of the brain. Just for perspective, between 2009 and 2018 there were 30 total deaths from EEE. In addition to the diseases which mosquitoes can carry, they are also invasive. Mosquitoes actually seem like unnatural competitors in most places where they spread disease, so they have ecological as well as health impacts.

There are some common prevention techniques to try and combat mosquitoes: remove standing water from our property, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, use repellent, or simply avoid being outside during the hours when mosquitoes are most active. However, while suggestions like these do help, they never quite eliminate the threat of mosquito bites.

It was further reported that in an effort to curb the growth of mosquitoes, some cities resort to deploying ground- or aerial-based pesticides during evening or night time to further reduce mosquito populations.

To better control mosquito populations, the report mentions another technique. Scientists at the biotech firm Oxitec Ltd. set out to use genetic tools to modernize the decades-old strategy of Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). SIT involves the mass sterilization of an insect population, often using radiation, before release into the wild. The idea is that the sterile insects will compete for mates in the natural population but produce no offspring.

The report also added that this technology has shown to be successful in field studies, reducing population size by 80-90 percent.

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