Terratis makes a splash against the tiger mosquito

Following an evaluation and proposal by the Pôle Universitaire d'Innovation (PUI), supported by the University of Montpellier, BPI France announced on March 28, during the "4 years of the DeepTech Plan", the 1st BFT Lab preselection in favor of Terratis, a future start-up from Montpellier. Deployed by the French government, this grant is intended for pre-creation projects within PUIs, which are undergoing technical prematuration/maturation, to enable them to accelerate their access to the market. For Terratis, the BFT Lab will support the implementation and industrialization of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) in France. Developed on Reunion Island by the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), this method of combating the tiger mosquito could also be used on agricultural insect pests of interest to the Occitanie region.

Mosquito bites can be more or less unpleasant, or even dangerous, depending on the species and the individual. Shutterstock

Behind the scenes of pre-selection

Reduce the mosquito population... by releasing mosquitoes. This is the principle behind TIS, which aims to combat Aedes albopictus by releasing sterilized males. This technology is attracting interest on a national scale, with the first preselection of the future Montpellier start-up Terratis, to benefit from this grant, which complements the technology maturation action supported and financed by SATT AxLR to the tune of 850k€. The BFT Lab helps project leaders supported by member institutions of the Montpellier PUI and the University of Montpellier, the world's third-largest university in the field of ecology.

This national first is an exemplary illustration of the UM's ability to federate, within the Montpellier PUI, all the players involved in innovation, in order to support and accompany our laboratories in the valorization of their research. Terratis, co-created and managed by Clelia Oliva, has thus been able to benefit from all the expertise developed and amplified within the PUI, and now complemented by this BFT Lab.

This excellent recognition by BPI France is a strong incentive for the University of Montpellier to continue its work and commitment, in order to provide the French government with a vision of Montpellier's regional innovation dynamic.

"Montpellier is a major research hub from which a large number of innovative startups emerge. It's a real springboard for a young company like ours, which is part of the Med Vallée dynamic. We benefit from the technology transfer provided by the IRD and the strong links with the teams based in Montpellier, which are key to the solid establishment of the TIS and the success of the company", says Clelia Oliva, co-founder and director of Terratis.

TIS for communities and large private spaces

Terratis is working on industrializing the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for future deployment in France. This technique makes it possible to progressively reduce tiger mosquito populations in an area by influencing the mosquito's reproductive cycle. As male mosquitoes do not bite, the technique simply involves releasing sterilized males to mate with wild females, thereby blocking their reproduction.

"As the insects do all the work naturally and without demarcated zones, it's an approach that benefits all citizens. Its effectiveness has already been proven in several territories. On Reunion Island, the proof-of-concept study carried out by IRD in 2022 reduced fertility by 60% on a neighborhood scale. We are working with local stakeholders to use this ecological and more targeted solution as a complement to conventional tools for combating the tiger mosquito, once our massive breeding farm project is up and running by 2028," adds Clelia Oliva.

For a community, for large private spaces such as campsites or leisure parks, or even for airports, the positive impacts will be considerable in terms of reduced nuisance costs and health risks, as well as improved quality of life.

"This ambitious business project, the only one of its kind in France, has been made possible thanks to the support and guidance of Montpellier's innovation and research ecosystem, in particular the University of Montpellier and its INITIUM incubator, the Montpellier BIC, the AxLR SATT, IRD and INRAE, as well as the Occitanie region," explains Clelia Oliva.

For further information:

About the University of Montpellier: With its 17 faculties, schools and institutes and 74 research structures, the University of Montpellier brings together a vast community of knowledge: science, technology, physical activities and sports, medicine, pharmacy, law, political science, economics and management. With over 52,000 students and 4,800 staff, the University of Montpellier is one of France's leading universities. The UM enjoys international recognition for the excellence of its teaching and research (Top 200 in the overall Shanghai ranking and Top 3 in ecology in its thematic ranking). The University of Montpellier, which is also one of Europe's most innovative universities (Reuters ranking), has been operating a "Pôle Universitaire d'Innovation" (PUI) since 2022. As part of the collective dynamic instigated by the I-SITE excellence program, it brings together 10 research organizations, 3 healthcare establishments and 2 schools, and includes players from the innovation ecosystem such as SATT AxLR, the Montpellier Metropole BIC, the Occitanie Regional Economic Development Agency and BPI France. From training to business creation, the PUI Montpellier encourages early detection and support, notably through the "PEPITE DeepTech", and promotes the complementarity of innovation facilities across the site. Since 2020, startups based on research conducted by PUI Montpellier partners have raised over €300 million.

About Terratis: Clelia Oliva and Allan Debelle have created this young Montpellier-based startup from research, committed to the responsible management of insect pests. Terratis is working on the industrialization and deployment of SIT (Sterile Insect Technique). The setting up of a pilot production line and a proof of market foresees the hiring of 7 employees in 2024, and more than 15 additional job creations by 2028 for the operational launch of the massive breeding farm. Studies concerning the proposed breeding farm and its location will be initiated in 2024 with local stakeholders.

About IRD The Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) is a multidisciplinary French public research organization which, for nearly 80 years, has been committed to equitable partnerships with developing countries and French overseas territories. A player on the international development agenda, its priorities are in line with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Together, scientists and the Institute's partners propose concrete solutions to the global challenges facing societies and the planet. This win-win relationship makes science and innovation major levers for development.

About SATT AxLR : SATT AxLR is a technology transfer accelerator specializing in the maturation and commercialization of innovative public research projects. It works with most of the public research laboratories in Occitanie Est, one of the most dynamic regions in France and Europe, with nearly 200 laboratories and almost 11,000 researchers and research staff. Since its creation, SATT AxLR has financed 192 innovation programs, invested €67 million, signed 173 transfer contracts with companies and supported 119 start-ups.