Bean leaves can trap bed bugs: Next step is to perfect synthetic materials that can do the same

Apr 09, 2013
Bed bug (Cimex lectularius). Credit: CDC/ Harvard University

Inspired by a traditional Balkan bedbug remedy, researchers have documented how microscopic hairs on kidney bean leaves effectively stab and trap the biting insects, according to findings published online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Scientists at UC Irvine and the University of Kentucky are now developing materials that mimic the geometry of the leaves.

Bedbugs have made a dramatic comeback in the U.S. in recent years, infesting everything from homes and hotels to schools, and hospitals. Although not known to transmit disease, their bites can cause burning, itching, swelling and psychological distress. It helps to catch infestations early, but the nocturnal parasites' ability to hide almost anywhere, breed rapidly and "hitchhike" from place to place makes detection difficult. They can survive as long as a year without a blood meal.

Current commercial , including freezing, extreme heating, vacuuming and pesticides, can be costly and unreliable. Many sufferers resort to ineffective, potentially dangerous measures, such as spraying nonapproved insecticides themselves rather than hiring a professional.

Doctoral student Megan Szyndler, entomologist Catherine Loudon and chemist Robert Corn of UC Irvine and Kenneth Haynes and Michael Potter of the University of Kentucky collaborated on the new study.

Their work was motivated by a centuries-old remedy for bedbugs formerly used in Bulgaria, Serbia and other southeast European countries. Kidney bean leaves were strewn on the floor next to beds and seemed to ensnare the blood-seeking parasites on their nightly forays. The bug-encrusted greenery was burned the next morning to exterminate the insects.

Through painstaking detective work, the scientists discovered that the creatures are trapped within seconds of stepping on a leaf, their legs impaled by microscopic hooked hairs known botanically as trichomes.

Using the bean leaves as templates, the researchers have microfabricated materials that closely resemble them geometrically. The synthetic surfaces snag the bedbugs temporarily but do not yet stop them as effectively as real leaves, Loudon said, suggesting that crucial mechanics of the trichomes still need to be determined.

Theoretically, bean leaves could be used for pest control, but they dry out and don't last very long. They also can't easily be applied to locations other than a floor. Synthetic materials could provide a nontoxic alternative.

"Plants exhibit extraordinary abilities to entrap insects," said Loudon, lead author of the paper. "Modern scientific techniques let us fabricate materials at a microscopic level, with the potential to 'not let the bite' without pesticides."

"Nature is a hard act to follow, but the benefits could be enormous," Potter said. "Imagine if every bed bug inadvertently brought into a dwelling was captured before it had a chance to bite and multiply."

Explore further: Honeybees play a vital role in the agricultural industry

More information: Entrapment of bed bugs by leaf trichomes inspires microfabrication of biomimetic surfaces for pest control: rsif.royalsocietypublishing.or… .1098/rsif.2013.0174

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baudrunner
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 09, 2013
When they do develop a marketable product, it will have to be in the form of disposable sheets, since using the material in the joinery of the framework of homes will eventually see the bedbugs overcoming the obstacle when dirt and their own residue have paved the way for them to cross such barriers. Bed bugs can migrate to a non-infested apartment from an infested one, and they will slip through the tightest of seams between the baseboards, even under silicone seals where the floors meets the walls in a bathroom. If one apartment in a building has them, the entire building needs to be treated. If your neighbor's house has them, you are at risk for having them. They are insidious. Probably the best way to keep them under control is to avail yourself of a family of Reduvius personatus, the masked bedbug hunter, a predatory insect that feeds on them. They only bite when mishandled and are actually more beneficial than risky to have around.
VendicarE
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2013
In the developed world, the principle vector for bedbugs has been the business man.

Another Gift from American style Capitalism.
scidog
2.5 / 5 (4) Apr 10, 2013
why bother with a synthetic material when just plain bean leaves work?you could grow beans in a window pot.
Moebius
5 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2013
I think it might make more sense to find a lure and create a trap for them, not make beds and sheets out of the stuff. Chances are if it can catch bugs it will irritate the skin.
YawningDog
2 / 5 (3) Apr 10, 2013
How many readers know that smallpox was transmitted by infected bedbugs? Not many I'm sure. Big Pharma propaganda touts smallpox eradication as being due to vaccination when in reality it was sanitation that cleaned it up. Google Dr. Campbell, smallpox, and bedbugs. You'll be amazed at how he tested his theories. That was back in the days when doctors didn't have to worry about pesky malpractice suits.
bob_fishell
2 / 5 (4) Apr 10, 2013
Nature has a way of foiling our best intentions. Suppose we develop a synthetic material capable of trapping and killing 99.99% of all of these critters. The result will be that 0.01% of them will get through, will be fruitful and multiply, and will sneer at our synthetic bean leaves as they bed down for the night.

It seems to me that research would be better directed at what in the environment has changed, that has brought about the increase in the bedbug population.