Identification of Bed Bug Pheromones

Bedbug bait and trap invented by Simon Fraser University scientists

Biologist Regine Gries endured 180,000 bedbug bites as her team hunted for the ultimate bedbug lure

CBC News Posted: Dec 22, 2014 12:31 PM PTLast Updated: Dec 23, 2014 6:57 AM PT

After 180,000 bedbug bites and eight years of study, Simon Fraser University scientists say they have invented a new kind of bedbug bait and trap.

The trap, which will be available commercially next year, will work by emitting a set of chemical attractants, or pheromones, that lure the bedbugs into traps, and keep them there.

Biologist Regine Gries discovered the pheromones after acting as a host for more than a thousand bedbugs during the research, which also involved her husband, biology professor Gerhard Gries, SFU chemist Robert Britton and a team of students

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“The biggest challenge in dealing with bedbugs is to detect the infestation at an early stage,” said Gerhard Gries in a news release on Monday.

“This trap will help landlords, tenants, and pest-control professionals determine whether premises have a bedbug problem, so that they can treat it quickly. It will also be useful for monitoring the treatment’s effectiveness.”

NYC Bedbugs

In this undated photo, a common bedbug is engorged with blood after feeding on a human. (The Associated Press)

Regine Gries endured 180,000 bites from the team’s bedbug colony as part of the research, the release said, because she is immune to the bites, getting only a slight rash instead of the usual itching and swelling most people suffer.

Why bedbugs love biting us so much

Bedbugs are wingless pests that feed on humans as their preferred source of blood. The small, flat insects were all but wiped out after the Second World War but have returned with a vengeance to Canadian homes, hotels and shelters.

The insects will bite all over a human body, favouring the face, neck, upper torso, arms and hands. They can go for weeks or months without feeding, depending on the temperature.

The Gries research began eight years ago, when they initially isolated a pheromone mix that attracted bedbugs 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,” said Gerhard Gries.

Britton was then brought in to the team to study the tiny amounts of chemicals Regine Gries had isolated from shed bedbug skin and figure out why bedbugs find human skin so appealing.

After two years, Britton and the Gries discovered the answer is histamine, a chemical which signals “safe shelter” to the bloodsucking pests.

Crucially, once in contact with histamine, the insects stay there regardless of how hungry for human blood they are.

Key to bedbug trap is in the feces

?However, despite their extensive research, the Gries and their team still could not combine the histamine or pheromone blend to make an effective trap — so they began analyzing airborne chemicals from bedbug feces.

Five months later, the team had discovered three new compounds that had never before been reported for bedbugs, completing the combination of attractants needed for the trap.

Their bedbug trap has been successfully tested in bedbug-infested apartments in Metro Vancouver and the team is now working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the trap commercially.

Unfortunately, this means Regine Gries is still feeding the bedbug colony every week.

“I’m not too thrilled about this…But knowing how much this technology will benefit so many people, it’s all worth it.”

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