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In the News – Bed Bug Trap Coming Soon

By Chris Williams on January 21, 2015.

She did it all for the sake of science. Biologist Regine Gries became a human pincushion for a thousand hungry bed bugs. And she did it over and over again every night for five years!

Gries and her husband, Gerhard, are biologists at Simon Fraser University. For eight years, they have been studying bed bugs. If you study bed bugs, you have to find a way to feed them to keep the colony alive. Bed bugs aren’t puppies; they won’t just come to a dish of blood. You either have to come up with a sophisticated artificial membrane that will dispense blood, feed them on another animal, or become a human volunteer.

Gries drew the short straw because she is essentially immune to bed bug bites; she doesn’t suffer the itching and swelling that is a normal reaction. So 180,000 bites and eight years later, she is about to reap the reward. Their pheromone trap for bed bugs is soon in commercial production.

Lured By Their Own Pheromones

Early in their research, the Gries isolated bed bug pheromones (natural chemical scents that lure bed bugs) from shed bed bug skins. One group of aggregation pheromones draws bed bugs back to their hiding places after they have finished feeding. The pheromones attracted bed bugs in the lab, but the researchers could not get good results in bed bug-infested apartments, also known as “the real world.”

It took another two years of tweaking the chemicals to determine that the missing ingredient was histamine.  Once bed bugs are in contact with histamine, they remain at the site; histamine signals safe shelter to them. The researchers still didn’t have an effective trap, so they looked at mixing in bed bug feces. With the help of chemist Robert Britton, they found three new compounds in the feces that were successfully incorporated into the final trap design.

Trap is a Tool, Not a Cure

Various bed bug traps have been around for a few years. Some attract with CO2, heat, or chemicals. Others only require that the bed bugs stumble into the trap. The new bed bug pheromone trap will work by emitting pheromone chemical attractants which will lure bed bugs into the trap, where the histamine will help keep them there. Fortunately, the pheromones attract both males and females and all stages of bed bugs. The trap is scheduled to be available commercially next year. The researchers estimate each trap would cost about 10 cents (we assume that’s production cost, not the cost to the consumer).

The primary use for the pheromone trap is as a monitoring tool to detect the presence of bed bugs. “This trap will help landlords, tenants, and pest control professionals determine whether premises have a bed bug problem, so that they can treat it quickly. It will also be useful for monitoring the treatment’s effectiveness,” said Gerhard. In other words, the trap won’t eliminate a bed bug infestation. You’ll still need a professional exterminator for that. But soon, both exterminators and residents will have a new weapon in the war against bed bugs.

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