Regine Gries, biologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada, welcomed 180,000 bedbug bites while assisting her husband and fellow biologists in their quest to conquer the global bedbug epidemic. Since Regine is immune to the bites, she became the “host”. After years of research, the Gries, along with Robert Britton, a chemist at the university, and a team of students, have discovered a set of chemical attractants, or pheromones, that lure the bedbugs into traps and keep them there.
After two years of false leads, they finally discovered that the molecule histamine signals, “safe shelter” to bed bugs. Once in contact with histamine, the bedbugs stay put whether they have recently fed on a human host or not. The Gries and their students initially found a pheromone blend that attracted bedbugs in lab experiments, but not in bedbug-infested flats.
Neither histamine alone or in combination with pheromone components, effectively attracted and trapped bedbugs in infested flats. So Regine began analyzing airborne volatile compounds from bedbug feces as an alternate source of the missing components.
Five months and 35 experiments later, she discovered three new volatiles previously unidentified. These three components coupled with two other from their earlier research and the histamine became the highly effective lure they were seeking.
Bed bugs have been feeding on humans for thousands of years. In the early 1940s, they were mostly eradicated in the developed world, but their populations have increased since 1995 likely due to pesticide resistance. Because infestation of human habitats has been on the rise, bed bug bites and related conditions have been on the rise as well.
The name “bed bug” comes from its preferred habitat of Cimex lectularius or warm houses and especially nearby or inside of beds, bedding or other sleep areas. Bed bugs are active at night but are not exclusively nocturnal. They usually feed on their hosts without being noticed.
A number of adverse health effects may result from bed bug bites. Skin rash, psychological effects, and allergic symptoms are among the more common. They are not known to transmit any pathogens as diseases.