Researchers may have finally found the solution to those pesky bedbug infestations: a set of pheromones that lure the parasites into sneaky traps and keep them there.
Simon Fraser University biologist Regine Gries (who has allowed bedbugs to feast on her arms for five years in the name of science) and her colleges are now working with Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the world's first affordable bedbug baits and traps. The technology is expected to be available commercially by next year.
"The biggest challenge in dealing with bedbugs is to detect the infestation at an early stage," said Regine Gries' husband and fellow researcher Gerhard Gries. "This trap will help landlords, tenants, and pest-control professionals determine whether premises have a bedbug problem, so that they can treat it quickly. It will also be useful for monitoring the treatment's effectiveness."
Regine became a "host" of 180,000 bedbugs used in the study because she happens to be immune to their bites, meaning she suffers only a mild rash compared to the sever itching and swelling experienced by most individuals.
The researchers pinpointed a pheromone blend that effectively attracted bedbugs in a laboratory setting, but not in commonly-infested areas such as apartments.
"We realized that a highly unusual component must be missing--one that we couldn't find using our regular gas chromatographic and mass spectrometric tools," Gerhard said.
The team paired up with SFU chemist Robert Britton and used NMR spectrometers chemicals in shed bedbug skin in hopes of discovering what attracted these pests to human flesh. After two years, the researchers finally found histamine, a unique molecule, signals a "safe shelter" to bedbugs. The team found that once bedbugs come in contact with this molecule, they tend not to move, even if they have not successfully fed on a human host.
Despite these promising findings, the researchers were disappointed to observe the method still did not effectively trap bedbugs in traditional infestation settings. After another five months and 35 experiments, the team finally found the perfect combination of histamine and components from past studies.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Angewandte Chemie.