12/22/2014 06:43 EST | Updated 12/22/2014 06:59 EST

SFU Scientists Discover Groundbreaking Bedbug Bait And Trap

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A team of B.C. researchers have discovered a way to bait and trap bedbugs, which could potentially help curb what has become a global epidemic over the past two decades.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) biologist Regine Gries, her husband and biology professor Gerhard Gries, SFU chemist Robert Britton, and a team of students discovered a set of chemical attractants (pheromones) that draw the bugs into traps, according to a Monday news release from the university.

By luring and holding the bedbugs, the pheromones allow landlords and homeowners to identify and monitor the pests and the severity of their infestation — something which up until now has been expensive and difficult to do.

“The biggest challenge in dealing with bedbugs is to detect the infestation at an early stage,” Gerhard says in the release.

“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.”

The Gries began looking for pheromones that could lure the blood-sucking bugs eight years ago. Regine endured 180,000 bedbug bites in order to test their research over the years. (She is one of the lucky ones immune to the bites, which are otherwise itchy and swollen.)

Along with their students, the couple found a pheromone blend that baited the bugs in labs, but not in infested buildings. So they called in Britton, who used SFU's NMR spectrometers to chemically explore why bedbugs like skin so much when they inhabit an apartment.

After two years, the team discovered a molecule called histamine that the pests identify as a "safe shelter." When they come into contact with it, they stay there regardless of having recently fed on human skin. But neither histamine alone nor combined with the previously identified components did the trick.

It wasn't until five months later that they discovered three airborne volatile compounds that, combined with successful results from earlier research and histamine, generated an effective bait.

The team has since conducted a series of successful trials at infested apartments around Metro Vancouver and published their findings in chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie earlier in December.

They are now working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the bait and trap, which they are calling the world's first effective and affordable invention of its kind. It is expected to be commercially available next year.

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