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Web Date: December 22, 2014

Chemical Cocktail Lures Bedbugs And Coaxes Them To Stay Put

Pheromones: Mixture of volatiles and histamine could enable cheaper pest detection and control
Department: Science & Technology | Collection: Critter Chemistry
News Channels: Analytical SCENE, Biological SCENE, Organic SCENE
Keywords: Bed bug, pheromone, histamine
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Credit: Mike Hrabar
20141222lnp1-bedbugscxd
 
Credit: Mike Hrabar

Well-fed bedbugs appear to use histamine to signal their comrades to stick around.

Going against conventional wisdom, Regine Gries let the bedbugs bite. A lot.

The biologist let the pests in her laboratory feast on the blood in her forearms— to the tune of some 180,000 bites—in the name of science. In doing so, she’s helped discover a previously unidentified bedbug pheromone that could help identify and fight future infestations.

When bedbugs move into a building, eradicating them is an expensive process fraught with anxiety and frustration. Many researchers are working on improving bedbug detection methods because existing techniques are often costly or too time consuming for routine monitoring. Some think that baiting traps with bedbug pheromones could provide an affordable way to detect infestations before they become severe.

But researchers have been missing an important piece of the pheromone puzzle, namely the arrestant compound that bedbugs use to tell one another that a particular habitat is a safe place to hunker down— between a mattress and a box spring, for instance.

A team of biologists and chemists at Simon Fraser University, in Canada, led by Gries, her husband Gerhard J. Gries, and Robert A. Britton now believes it has identified the arrestant: histamine, a simple compound humans produce during immune responses (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201409890). Bedbugs, the team found, release histamine in their feces and in their cuticles, the skin they shed after a blood meal. This sort of waste accumulates in the bugs’ favorite hiding spots, often near a food source. The researchers are now working to turn their discovery into commercialized bedbug traps.

The researchers identified histamine, along with a cornucopia of other chemicals, using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. To test how bugs in the lab respond to each potential pheromone, they then had to gather “an enormous collection of cuticles and feces to get enough material to identify what the arrestant was,” Britton says. Getting bedbugs to shed and defecate the requisite amount required an awful lot of feeding, hence, the nearly 200,000 bedbug bites endured by Regine.

Beyond uncovering histamine, the team also determined that bedbugs produce five key volatile organic compounds, including 2-hexanone and dimethyldisulfide, to attract one another. Armed with this discovery, the researchers concocted a cocktail of histamine and alluring volatiles to bait traps. Because the compounds are all rather simple and easy to synthesize, Britton says, the chemical cost per trap was less than 10 cents.

The researchers tested their bait in bedbug-infested locations around Vancouver and found that their pheromone blend not only lured bedbugs into traps, but also kept them there, a crucial and challenging step in detection.

Kenneth F. Haynes, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky, tells C&EN this study could be the basis of “the breakthrough that is required to deal with this difficult pest.” Haynes, who was not involved with the study, adds that he’s excited to see how these findings influence pest control practices.

Gerhard Gries says he’s working with Contech Enterprises, a Canadian company that manufactures environmentally friendly pest control products, to develop commercial traps, which he hopes will be available next year. “We’ve identified a set of really straightforward chemicals that are effective,” he says. “That’s the main reason we really think this technology could make a big difference.”.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
Comments
SSheri (Tue Dec 23 06:38:05 EST 2014)
That's great news now how do I find what's needed to get rid of these bedbugs
Patricia Murphy (Thu Dec 03 21:17:19 EST 2015)
I read the article about bedbugs and how they're attracted to this pheromone. What is the bed bug traps made of? What kinds of things do you need to make bed bug traps with these pheromones? I would like to buy or make these traps myself to catch the bed bugs in my apartment. I had an infestation a few month ago, killed most of them by having an exterminator over but they still show up once in a while and I still get bites because I can't find out where the eggs are hidden. They're not around my bed because I have a barrier there to keep them away by using diatonacious earth. But they are elsewhere in my apartment, mostly around where I hav a lot of paper. I just want to draw them out and kill them off for good. Email with the recipe or making this trap you talked about.


My email address is pjmurphy93@yahoo.com
Thank you
Matt Davenport (Mon Dec 07 17:33:51 EST 2015)
Thanks for reaching out, Patricia. I'm so sorry to hear about the lingering pests. I'm not sure if there's a finalized trap recipe yet, but I've forwarded your message to the researchers and will let you know if I hear anything.
Jason A. Janet, PhD (Wed Jan 20 09:19:03 EST 2016)
Unfortunately, this article does not mention a few critical things.

1. All the compounds used in the attractant are VOLATILE. VOCs are not typically considered safe.

2. Two of the compounds have Sulfides, which gives this lure an offensive odor...we're still trying to find containers that keep it from stinking up storage, refrigerator, and other spaces.

3. It has little to no endurance because the volatile compounds evaporate, even if they are suspended in mineral oil or parafin.

4. Contech went bankrupt.

5. There is no empirical data available (as far as I'm aware) regarding its effectiveness outside a lab.

It is widely agreed that the best lures for bed bugs are: 1) humans (heat, breath, vibration, pheromones); 2) Bed bug feces and exuvia; and, 3) Heat.

Regarding Patricia's challenge, it's my experience that Silica gel and heat treatment are most effective (and safe).
PDavid Johnson (Fri Mar 18 22:38:44 EDT 2016)
Has anyone or organization done any research on the possiblity of killing bed bugs through the source of their livelihood, i.e. human blood? It would seem to me that there is possiblity a concoction that wouldnot harm the human, if ingested, yet would serve as a poision to the bed bug if they bite people and ingest their blood.I am not a scientist so, I have no idea how this could or would be done. I have been told that I might be what is called a host, would appreciate any view point on this.
please e-mail a response. sincerly and thanks
Matt Davenport (Fri Mar 25 09:00:13 EDT 2016)
Thanks for the question! It's definitely an interesting query that I unfortunately don't know much about. I did, however, find this article from 2012 that has some information about the type of studies you mention: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-11/can-taking-pill-bed-kill-bed-bugs
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