Scientists Developing Pheromone-Laced Bed Bug Trap

Scientists Developing Pheromone-Laced Bed Bug Trap

The Simon Fraser University husband-wife research team of biologists Gerhard Gries and Regine Gries, along with SFU chemist Robert Britton and a team of students, have been working on a new trap that uses pheromones to attract bed bugs.

January 5, 2015

Researchers from Simon Fraser University are using a set of chemical attractants, or pheromones, that lure bed bugs into traps, and keep them there.

The Simon Fraser University husband-wife research team of biologists Gerhard Gries and Regine Gries, along with SFU chemist Robert Britton and a team of students, have been working on the new trap.

This month, after a series of successful trials in bed bug-infested apartments in Metro Vancouver, they have published their research, Bedbug aggregation pheromone finally identified, in Angewandte Chemie, a leading general chemistry journal.

They’re working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the first effective and affordable bait and trap for detecting and monitoring bedbug infestations. They expect it to be commercially available next year.

The research was funded with a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada industry grant in partnership with Contech Enterprises Inc.

The Gries began their research eight years ago when Gerhard, who is internationally renowned for his pioneering work in chemical and bioacoustic communication between insects, began searching for pheromones that could lure and trap bed bugs.

Regine worked with him, running all of the lab and field experiments and, just as importantly, enduring 180,000 bedbug bites in order to feed the large bedbug colony required for their research. She became the unintentional “host” because, unlike Gerhard, she is immune to the bites, suffering only a slight rash instead of the ferocious itching and swelling most people suffer.

The Gries and their students initially found a pheromone blend that attracted bed bugs in lab experiments, but not in bedbug-infested apartments. “We realized that a highly unusual component must be missing—one that we couldn’t find using our regular gas chromatographic and mass spectrometric tools,” says Gerhard.

That’s when they teamed up with Britton, an expert in isolating and solving the structure of natural products, and then synthesizing them in the lab. He used SFU’s state-of-the-art NMR spectrometers to study the infinitesimal amounts of chemicals Regine had isolated from shed bedbug skin, looking for the chemical clues as to why the bed bugs find the presence of skin so appealing in a shelter.

It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

After two years of frustrating false leads, Britton, his students and the Gries duo finally discovered that histamine, a molecule with unusual properties that eluded identification through traditional methods, signals “safe shelter” to bed bugs. Importantly, once in contact with the histamine, the bed bugs stay put whether or not they have recently fed on a human host.

Yet, to everyone’s disbelief, neither histamine alone nor in combination with the previously identified pheromone components effectively attracted and trapped bed bugs in infested apartments. So Regine began analyzing airborne volatile compounds from bedbug faeces as an alternate source of the missing components.
Five months and 35 experiments later, she had found three new volatiles that had never before been reported for bed bugs. These three components, together with two components from their earlier research and, of course, histamine, became the highly effective lure they were seeking.

Their research isn’t over yet, however. They continue to work with Contech Enterprises to finalize development of the commercial lure—which means Regine is still feeding the bed bugs every week. “I’m not too thrilled about this,” admits Regine, “but knowing how much this technology will benefit so many people, it’s all worth it.”

Source: Simon Fraser University News Release