Tennessee researchers developing new type of mosquito repellent

(WMC-TV) – Experts expect more mosquitoes this summer because of the mild winter and warmer temperatures, and researchers in Tennessee are developing a new type of repellent.

Vanderbilt University is researching a new compound that may be thousands of times stronger than DEET, the ingredient in most mosquito spray.

Researcher Patrick Jones is trying to find a way to get mosquitoes to stay away from humans.  The research starts at a mosquito's antennae, where their olfactory system begins their hunt for humans.

Jones and fellow Vanderbilt researchers used genetic engineering techniques and testing looking for a way to change a mosquito's behavior.  During that search, Jones hit on a compound that turns on a newly discovered molecule channel.

"We were able to identify a molecule that had the strangest activity that we had ever seen in that it could act on every single smell receptor complex that we had ever tested," said Jones.

Jones said the new compound activates the mosquito's nerves in the antennae, turning on the mosquito's entire smell receptor one system at a time.

"By activating everything at once, we are not only limiting her ability to smell something else, but it is also going to have an excito-repellent affect, sort of a 'get out of Dodge' response," said Jones.  "So each time a nerve cell turns on, you see one of these little lines or spikes, and so that when we treat with our compound, you see that it is turned on pretty much all the time."

The finding could also lead to new ways to reduce the spread of malaria.  The new compound will be tested in Africa soon.

Researchers said the new finding could also repel agricultural pests to keep them off important crops.

For now, Jones will keep working on the new compounds with hopes that mosquito bites become a thing of the past.

Researchers believe this new compound may also work well in repelling flies, moths, and ants, but it will likely be five more years before the product is actually on the market.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.