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Bean leaves to fight bedbugs

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

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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.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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