The “low-oxygen effect” has been known for decades, but the physiological basis for it had never been rigorously tested or analyzed, Hahn said. They suspected, and found, that under the low-oxygen conditions, the insects’ cells would produce antioxidants that can help better protect them from the off-target radiation damage.

Some operations that rear and sterilize insects, such as one in Guatemala that produces many of the sterile medflies dropped over Florida’s major ports roughly every seven days, do employ low-oxygen conditions, called hypoxia or anoxia. But many others don’t, he said, including those who rear and sterilize the cactus moth.

The researchers found using a low-oxygen environment during sterilization boosted the sterile males’ longevity as well as their ability to attract and successfully mate. They found that the positive effects of low-oxygen treatments even extended into their ‘old age’ – in the insects’ case, about 30 days under cushy laboratory conditions.

Treatments that both improve the sexual performance of sterile males and maintain high performance longer in older males can substantially increase the effectiveness and decrease the economic costs of SIT programs, Hahn said.

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