Can you hear that buzz? That’s the sound of mosquitoes waiting to ruin your summer barbecues and camping trips. With today’s mosquito repellents, we face an unfortunate choice: natural stuff that doesn’t work very well or DEET, which keeps blood-suckers at bay but might melt your swim trunks and give you a rash.
Anandasankar Ray, professor in the Entomology Department at UC Riverside, is working on new, better, safer alternatives — not by squirting thousands of random chemicals at mosquitoes, but by understanding exactly how a mosquito’s nose works.
Once Ray’s lab found how mosquitoes detect DEET, they were able to screen virtually nearly half a million chemicals to find alternatives that would act in the same way. Of the 1,000 candidates, over 100 came from fruits and plants and were already known to be safe. Instead of a harsh medicinal aroma, some of the new mosquito repellents Ray is developing smell like sandalwood or orange blossom.
Safer and cheaper mosquito repellents aren’t just great for saving your summer fun: they could have a real impact on global health.
“Nearly a billion people worldwide are affected by mosquito-borne diseases,” said Ray. “I am hopeful that this approach will lead to interventions that could be useful in the field and perhaps not only help protect us in our backyard barbeques, but also help have an impact on malaria.”
Read more: Making the ultimate mosquito repellent