The Pirbright Institute’s Professor Luke Alphey has been shortlisted for 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 will be up against eight others for the title of BBSRC Innovator of the Year at a high-profile event in London on 20 March 2014. The awards recognise BBSRC funded research that takes innovation beyond the lab to deliver social and economic benefits.
Luke’s research is centred on genetically modifying 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 therefore environmentally friendly as it negates the need for harmful pesticides to be used in insect control and by being species-specific only the animals needing to be controlled are targeted. With BBSRC support, Luke 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 sees three finalists compete in three 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. One of the category winners is then chosen as the overall Innovator of the Year. Luke has been shortlisted in the Social Innovator category, 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.
Luke says: “I'm delighted to have been shortlisted for this prestigous award. Genetic pest management holds out the prospect of controlling some of the world’s most intractable pests, including the mosquitoes that transmit major human diseases, as well as pests that attack crops and livestock. The potential social and economic impact is therefore huge, and I am excited to be involved in the development of this approach, and to have begun to move from lab to field.”
Winners in each category will receive a £15,000 award for them to support their research, training or other activities promoting economic or social impact. The overall winner will receive a further £15,000.
Before joining The Pirbright institute, Luke worked at Oxitec, a spin out company he founded in order to develop and commercialise the RIDL® technology. Prior to that he was an MRC Senior Research Fellow and Reader in Genetics at the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, where he is also a Visiting Professor.