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Natural Fungus May Control Bed Bugs

According to a team of college entomologists, biopesticides (naturally occurring microorganisms) might provide an effective way to control bed bugs and address concerns about the safety of using traditional chemicals in the home.

According to Nina Jenkins, senior research associate in entomology, preliminary bioassays on the effects of Beauveria bassiana, a natural fungus that causes disease in insects, for bed bug control have been performed, and the results are encouraging. She and her colleagues report their results in the most recent issue of the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.

Jenkins, working with Alexis Barbarin, a former Penn State postgraduate student now at the University of Pennsylvania, Edwin Rajotte, professor of entomology, and Matthew Thomas, professor of entomology, looked at how B. bassiana acts through contact with its insect host.

“They are natural diseases that exist in the environment,” says Jenkins. “They are relatively easy to produce in a lab and are stable, so you can use them much like chemical pesticides.”

The speed of mortality with B. bassiana is as fast as Jenkins has seen in any application, but it doesn’t even need to be that fast. No one wants to have bed bugs longer than they have to, but what’s really important is knowing they’re all gone at the end of the treatment.

Scanning electron micrograph of the vental surface of a bed bug. PHOTO: JANICE HANEY CARR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION

A scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the ventral surface of a bed bug, Cimex lectularius. PHOTO: JANICE HANEY CARR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION

Nearly 100 percent of bed bugs exposed to the biopesticide became infected and died within five days. And, infected bed bugs carried the biopesticide back to their hiding places, infecting those that did not go out in search of blood. Direct exposure isn’t necessary—that’s something chemicals can’t do.

Next, the researchers will test the effectiveness of brief exposure times and look at entire populations where natural harborages are established. Then they will begin fieldwork.

“It’s exciting, and it definitely works,” says Jenkins. “We’re working on the next step, and we have more funding to support these studies.”