Health

#48: Strongest Repellent Found


A new compound is 100,000 times stronger than DEET.

By Caroline SpivackDec 22, 2011 12:00 AM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

DEET, the most widely used commercial insect repellent, offers powerful protection from vectorborne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. But it is toxic in high concentrations, expensive, and short-lived. Soon there may be a better option. In May Vanderbilt University biologist Laurence Zwiebel announced that a compound called VUAA1 is not only 100,000 times as strong as DEET but also potentially cheaper and less harmful to humans.

The key to the improved repellent is its mode of action. DEET seems to work by inhibiting cells on an insect’s antennae, dulling its ability to locate prey. VUAA1, which Zwiebel discovered after screening 117,000 chemicals, stimulates a single receptor cell, called Orco. When triggered, Orco causes every type of odor cell to fire, overstimulating the bug’s olfaction system and disrupting its ability to sniff out humans—or anything else. “I’m hoping to repel bugs from crops, grain storage, and people,” Zwiebel says. “To have an impact across those aspects of human life would be extraordinary.”

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month
Already a subscriber? Log In or Register
1 free articleSubscribe
Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Log In or Register
More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.