The extensive antigenic variation phenomena African trypanosomes display in their mammalian host have hampered efforts to develop effective vaccines against trypanosomiasis. Human disease management aims largely to treat infected hosts by chemotherapy, whereas control of animal diseases relies on reducing tsetse populations as well as on drug therapy. The control strategies for animal diseases are carried out and financed by livestock owners, who have an obvious economic incentive. Sustaining largely insecticide-based control at a local level and relying on drugs for treatment of infected hosts for a disease for which there is no evidence of acquired immunity could prove extremely costly in the long run. It is more likely that a combination of several methods in an integrated, phased and area-wide approach would be more effective in controlling these diseases and subsequently improving agricultural output. New approaches that are environmentally acceptable, efficacious and affordable are clearly desirable for control of various medically and agriculturally important insects including tsetse. Here, Serap Aksoy and colleagues discuss molecular genetic approaches to modulate tsetse vector competence.