Bedbug study at UC Irvine is promising

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University of California Irvine

University of California Irvine (AP Photo)

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IRVINE (CNS) – A research team that included experts at UC Irvine has documented how a folk remedy for bedbugs works, clearing the way for a synthetic version that could someday be mass produced, according to a study released today.

Entomologists Kenneth Haynes and Michael Potter of the University of Kentucky had come across research, including one study dating back to the 1940s, demonstrating that kidney bean leaves work like a bear trap for bedbugs, blood-sucking parasites that leave sleepers waking up with burning, itching, and swelling.

“They asked me if I wanted to become involved … and how could I say no? It’s so interesting and exciting,” UCI biologist Kate Loudon told City News Service.

Loudon joined the team with doctoral student Megan Szyndler and UCI chemist Robert Corn.

When the UCI researchers were told about the kidney bean leaf remedy, “My reaction was, I’ve got to see this to believe it,” Loudon said. “So they put a bug on a bean leaf, and it takes a couple of steps; and bam, it starts struggling.”

The hairs on the leaf are microscopic, but the bed bugs’ legs get hooked on them and the insects can’t get free.

The team’s research was published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Bedbug remedies now being used include freezing, extreme heat, vacuuming and pesticides; but those methods can be costly and undependable, according to the researchers.

The kidney bean leaf remedy can be traced back to Bulgaria, Serbia and other southeast European countries. The leaves were put on the floor next to beds, and in the morning they were burned to exterminate the insects.

The researchers have developed synthetic templates that resemble the leaves, and that technology has been optioned by a company, according to Loudon.

Bedbugs do not usually encounter the kidney bean leaves, so it’s unclear how the folk remedy evolved, Loudon said.

“It’s rather astonishing somebody had figured this out,” Loudon said.

The research in the 1940s that identified the kidney bean leaves as a remedy was ironic, since at that time bedbugs were not a problem, since DDT was used to exterminate the insects, according to Loudon.

“Bedbed numbers were declining because DDT was legal at the time,” and it was very effective, Loudon said.

The federal government banned DDT use in the early 1970s as scientists learned of the hazards it posed to the environment and public health.

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