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Scientists Help Put Bedbugs to Bed Forever

The world owes a debt of gratitude to Simon Fraser University biologist Regine Gries in Canada. Her arms have provided a blood meal for more than a thousand bedbugs each week for five years while she and her husband, biology professor Gerhard Gries, searched for a way to conquer the global bedbug epidemic.

A release from the university reports that Gries worked with SFU chemist Robert Britton and a team of students. They have finally found the solution–a set of chemical attractants, or pheromones, that lure the bedbugs into traps, and keep them there.

In December 2014, after a series of successful trials in bedbug-infested apartments in Metro Vancouver, they published their research  in Angewandte Chemie, a leading general chemistry journal.

They’re working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the first effective and affordable bait and trap for detecting and monitoring bedbug infestations. They expect it to be commercially available next year.

The release quotes Gerhard Gries, who holds an NSERC-Industrial Research Chair in Multimodal Animal Communication Ecology, as saying, “The biggest challenge in dealing with bedbugs is to detect the infestation at an early stage. 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.”

It’s a solution the world has been waiting for.

Over the last two decades the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius), once thought eradicated in industrialized countries, has reappeared as a global scourge. These nasty insects are infesting not just low-income housing but also expensive hotels and apartments, and public venues such as stores, movie theatres, libraries and even public transit.

And while these blood-sucking pests were previously not considered a carrier of disease, scientists have recently discovered they can transmit the pathogen that causes Chagas disease, which is prevalent in Central and South America. Yet until now, tools for detecting and monitoring these pests have been expensive and technically challenging to use.

The research was funded with a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada industry grant in partnership with Contech Enterprises Inc.

Backgrounder: The research story–180,000 bedbug bites later

The Gries‘ began their research eight years ago when Gerhard, who is internationally renowned for his pioneering work in chemical and bioacoustic communication between insects, began searching for pheromones that could lure and trap bedbugs.

Regine worked with him, running all of the lab and field experiments and, just as importantly, enduring 180,000 bedbug bites in order to feed the large bedbug colony required for their research. She became the unintentional “host” because, unlike Gerhard, she is immune to the bites, suffering only a slight rash instead of the ferocious itching and swelling most people suffer.

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