Researchers make progress towards DEET alternative

The National Institutes of Health recently announced that researchers identified four different compounds that prompted the same avoidance behavior in fruit flies that mosquitoes demonstrate toward DEET.

The chemicals could be used to develop an alternative to DEET to deter insects and reduce transmission of diseases they commonly carry. DEET became the primary insect repellent after its introduction in the 1940s, but its use in Africa and Asia is not widespread due to its cost and the inconvenience of re-application.

The first step of the research, which was led by University of California Researcher Dr. Anandasankar Ray, was to identify which nerve cells in the antennae of insects are impacted by DEET. Then, a computer simulation sifted through more than 440,000 compounds with structural similarities to DEET.

The researchers selected four of the top 200 compounds from the simulated screening and tested them on Drosophila fruit flies and Aedes mosquitoes. Tests revealed the four chemicals all activated the same antenna cells as DEET, which triggered the same avoidance response. This could lead to the development of a DEET alternative that would be used in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world to curb diseases spread by insects.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke supported the research.

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National Institutes of Health

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