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Bean leaves to fight bedbugs

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  April 18, 2013 10:52 AM

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bedbug.jpeg
Bedbugs are one of the great menaces of our time, seemingly as easy to catch as the common cold, and impossible to eradicate without turning your life upside down. But at long last, hope arrives, in the form of a new study touting an old remedy for this insidious pest.

The study, which was published on April 10 in the Journal of the Royal Society and discussed earlier this week on the Smithsonian’s blog, examined an unlikely counter-bedbug strategy: kidney bean leaves. The authors report that bean leaves have long been used to combat bedbugs in Eastern Europe, where afflicted homeowners scatter the leaves around their beds at night, the bugs crawl over them and get stuck, and then the leaves are burned in the morning. In the current study the researchers, from the University of Kentucky and the University of California, Irvine, used a scanning electron microscope to observe exactly why the method works—they found that kidney bean leaves are covered with tiny hooked hairs called trichomes, which pierce the legs of the assaulting bedbugs, holding them fast.

How is it possible that such a basic solution has been hiding in plain sight all this time? The authors explain that kidney bean leaves actually received a burst of attention in 1943 with the release of a study called “The action of bean leaves against the bedbug.” But they conjecture that in the chaos of World War II, and with bedbugs receding as a public health concern in the 1950s thanks to the flagrant application of pesticides like DDT, people quickly forgot about the remedy.

But now bedbugs are back and perhaps kidney bean leaves can teach us how to stop them. The researchers used their analysis to build traps that mimicked the impaling action of the hairs, but they found that even their best designs were less effective than the real leaves at stopping bedbugs. They expressed hope that other researchers would improve on their trap designs, but in the meantime, gather kidney bean leaves while you can—the rush is on!

Via The Browser.

Image of a bedbug courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Wikimedia Commons.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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