New mosquito repellent makes you “invisible”

By Wes Judd | October 8, 2013

A new vapour developed in the USA renders humans virtually undetectable to mozzies.

SCIENTISTS HAVE CREATED WHAT might be the most effective insect repellent ever.

While the majority of existing repellents create an odour that is unpleasant for mosquitos, using a yellow oil known as DEET, this new blend of chemicals renders the insect senseless.

“These chemicals make you invisible,” says Dr Ulrich Bernier, a research chemist at the United States Department of Agriculture research service, and creator of the new formula.

Most effective mosquito repellent?

With over 5000 reported cases of mosquito-borne Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses in Australia every year, this new formula could prove to be invaluable for Australians in rural and urban areas.

Mosquitoes find humans by honing in on various chemicals and bacteria on the skin. In 2000, while studying this process, Ulrich created a repellent consisting of several chemicals, all of which are found in low doses in the human body. The resulting repellent was somewhat effective.

Years later, Ulrich added additional chemicals to the formula, including homopiperazine and 1-methylhomopiperazine, similar to those found in the human body, which acted to mask the scent of humans. He was amazed by the results.

“We took a cage of mosquitoes and gave them two ports to fly into: one with human hands inserted into them, and the other one with nothing.” At first, Ulrich explains, the mosquitoes were attracted to the container with the human hands. After the repellent was sprayed, however, they approached the containers with equal interest.

Researchers are keeping close guard over the ingredients of the formula, which was patented last year.

Repellent in vapour form

Significantly, this new repellent will be sprayed into the air, as opposed to directly on the skin.

Dr Cameron Webb, a medical entomologist at Sydney University, says that while DEET-based sprays have proven to be adequate in preventing mosquito bites, this new development represents an important next-step in insect-borne disease control.

“When applying lotions or sprays onto the skin, one can easily miss a spot,” says Cameron. “Air-based repellents solve that issue.”

The new repellent will take the form of a vapour which will work to create a protective bubble. While DEET has been accepted as a safe means of repellent, Ulrich says it’s always safer to have chemicals further away from humans.

Commercial availability is still a ways off, however: Ulrich says more field tests and toxicology tests are necessary to ensure the product is completely safe before it can hit the market.

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