The Pirbright Institute’s Dr Luke Alphey has won BBSRC’s Innovator of the Year award 2014 for his work on the genetic-based control of pest insects.
As a shortlisted finalist for the 2014 competition, Luke Alphey was up against eight others for the title of ‘Innovator of the Year’. The annual event forms part of the Biological and Biotechnology Research Council’s (BBSRC) Fostering innovation suite of competitions and is designed to recognise BBSRC funded research that takes innovation beyond the lab to deliver social and economic benefits.
Luke received his award at the competition finals in London following assessment by an independent panel of expert judges. He said, "It is such a great honour to win Innovator of the Year – particularly when there is such stiff competition. This demonstrates how UK bioscience innovations are tackling such a huge range of challenges."
He was presented with a trophy and £30,000 to support research, training or other activities promoting economic or social impact.
The award recognises the research Luke carried out at Oxitec Ltd to genetically modify insects as an environmentally friendly way of controlling pest populations, thereby reducing the damaging effects they can have on both animal and human health as well as on agriculture.
The RIDL® (Release of Insects with Dominant Lethality) system works by genetically engineering pest insects such as mosquitoes and crop pests to carry a gene that can kill them. This gene is kept dormant through a dietary antidote so that the insects can be reared to adults without dying. Large numbers of males are then released into an infested area to seek and mate with wild females. The resulting offspring inherit the engineered gene and die, thereby reducing the population. This control system is environmentally friendly as harmful pesticides are not needed and by being species-specific only the insects requiring control are targeted. With BBSRC support, Dr Alphey has taken his concept from academic proof-of-principle, through to commercialisation in a spin-out company, successful multi-country field trials and pilot operational use.
The BBSRC competition saw three finalists compete in three different categories, ‘Commercial Innovator’, ‘Social Innovator’ and ‘Most Promising Innovator’ which are aimed at reflecting the breadth of the benefits delivered by BBSRC’s investment in UK bioscience. As well as winning the Innovator of the Year award, Luke also took home Social Innovator of the Year, the same award presented to Pirbright scientists in 2013 for their work on the identification, modelling and control of bluetongue outbreaks in the UK and northern Europe.