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Scientists find key to more effective DEET alternatives

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October 3, 2013

Researchers have discovered which receptors mosquitoes use to detect DEET (Photo: Shutters...

Researchers have discovered which receptors mosquitoes use to detect DEET (Photo: Shutterstock)

Nothing keeps the mosquitoes away quite as well as DEET, but it's not the most innocuous of substances – besides stinking, it also melts plastic and synthetic fabrics, plus it's even been linked to problems in users' central nervous systems. It can also be prohibitively expensive for use in developing nations. Thanks to research being conducted at the University of California, Riverside, however, a new generation of non-toxic but highly-effective repellants may be on its way.

Previously, scientists had known that insects avoided DEET, but they didn't know which olfactory receptors the animals used to detect it. As a result, it was difficult to develop alternative repellants, as no one knew exactly what they should be targeting.

A UC Riverside team led by Prof. Anandasankar Ray, however, has located those receptors. They did so by examining genetically-engineered fruit flies, in which any neurons that were activated by DEET would fluoresce green. It turns out that the receptors are located on part of the antenna known as the sacculus.

Ray's team proceeded to test approximately 500,000 compounds, to see which ones activated those receptors. The compounds that worked were then narrowed down to ones that came from natural sources, then again to ones that worked well specifically on mosquitoes, and then again to ones that were already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use as food additives. Ultimately, that left three compounds –methyl N,N-dimethyl anthranilate (which is one compound, despite the comma), ethyl anthranilate and butyl anthranilate.

It is now hoped that one or more of these compounds – or others that are found to be safe, inexpensive and effective – could be used to keep nuisance insects away not only from humans and animals, but even from crops, too.

The university is currently looking into commercializing the technology. A paper on the research was published yesterday in the journal Nature.

Source: University of California, Riverside

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
10 Comments

If Prof. Anandasankar Ray is successful and if the repellant works on the female Anopheles mosquito which transmits malaria, Nobel?

BombR76
3rd October, 2013 @ 03:52 pm PDT

Mosquitoes are perhaps the deadliest animal to ever exist. You would think any progress to deter these and other bugs would be prime time news. Sadly most people just don't care.

Mantion
3rd October, 2013 @ 06:01 pm PDT

I've found a combination of Baby Oil, Dettol, and a smidge of Eucalyptus oil deflect the little critters (midgees in particular). It does smell, in fact my wife says I smell like a hospital (due to the dettol), but it does it's job for me as an alternative to DEET.

Mikey T
3rd October, 2013 @ 07:33 pm PDT

Picaridin is a safe alternative to DEET that has been available to consumers for quite some time.

Gadgeteer
3rd October, 2013 @ 07:52 pm PDT

Why don't they just go back to using DDT? It's a known fact that it isn't dangerous, doesn't cause problems with bird eggs, so why not just go back to using what worked in the first place?

Rusty Harris
3rd October, 2013 @ 08:43 pm PDT

http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112945222/grapefruit-future-of-pest-control-091113/

"Grapefruit may be the key in a new battle against mosquitoes, ticks, head lice and bedbugs, according to research presented at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Scientists say the citrus flavor and aroma of grapefruit may find a new use in battling the pests due to less expensive ways of making the ingredient, nootkatone. This ingredient previously had to be harvested from tons of grapefruit, but a new process is making nootkatone more economically efficient, bringing it to the front lines of the battlefield.

Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that nootkatone is very effective in controlling ticks, mosquitoes and other insects. However, they saw that it was too expensive to be used as a consumer product. The CDC scientists partnered with Allylix Inc., a renewable-chemical firm, to try and develop nootkatone for commercial use as an insect-control agent."

corgidaddy
3rd October, 2013 @ 09:06 pm PDT

Try those Vitamin B patches, they seem to work well, or alternately, gobble several B-Vitamin tablets.

Raymond Hietapakka
4th October, 2013 @ 06:20 am PDT

To BombR76 I would say, Yes, certainly a Nobel prize for that. This is great news in a very important area.

Arf
4th October, 2013 @ 10:30 am PDT

Hmm. Seems every writer is a "scientist" here? DDT is safe and harmless. Where does that research come from? This is the kind of research that should be funded as what little creature does more harm in this world?

chidrbmt
4th October, 2013 @ 11:22 am PDT

What happened to Bill Gate's plan to use lasers to shoot mosquitoes out of the sky? I know some small lakes around here that produces millions.

The Reekly
6th October, 2013 @ 12:15 am PDT
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