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SFU researcher lets the bedbugs bite

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Biologist Regine Gries sacrificed her blood in the interests of science. 

Biologist Regine Gries sacrificed her blood in the interests of science. (submitted)

Researchers at Simon Fraser University have discovered how to make a commercial trap for bedbugs after allowing the critters to feast on one of their colleague’s blood 180,000 times.

Biologist Regine Gries is basically immune to bedbug bites, which give most people ferocious itching and swelling, but only slight rashes when they bite her.

And so for five years, her arms have provided blood for more than a thousand bedbugs per week as part of research that dove into why they are attracted to human blood inside shelters.

At first, there was limited success, with the researchers discovering a pheromone blend that attract bedbugs in lab experiments, but failed to do so in real-life infestations.

Then, after teaming with a chemist, histamine’s relationship with the bugs was discovered. The molecule makes bedbugs stay where it is, regardless of whether or not they have fed.

But the blend still didn’t work in the field.

And months of additional research, researchers Gries, husband Gerhard Gries and chemist Robert Britton found more. They discovered three volatiles present in bedbug feces needed to be added to their mixture for the lure to work in real environments.

The researchers are now working with Contech Enterprises to finish the commercial trap, and Gries will have to continue feeding the pests to do so.

“I’m not too thrilled about this,” Gries said in a statement. “But knowing how much this technology will benefit many people, it’s all worth it.”

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