Some of the world s most devastating diseases are transmitted by arthropod vectors. Attempts to control these arthropods are currently being challenged by the widespread appearance of insecticide resistance. It is therefore desirable to develop alternative strategies to complement existing methods of vector control. In this review, Charles Beard, Scott O Neill, Robert Tesh, Frank Richards and Serap Aksoy present an approach for introducing foreign genes into insects in order to confer refractoriness to vector populations, ie. the inability to transmit disease-causing agents. This approach aims to express foreign anti-parasitic or anti-viral gene products in symbiotic bacteria harbored by insects. The potential use of naturally occurring symbiont-based mechanisms in the spread of such refractory phenotypes is also discussed.