Space Age Technology Can Now Sniff Out Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are a constant problem around the world, especially as the parasites have grown highly resistant to modern insecticides. The increased ease of global travel has allowed bed bug populations to spread across the planet, and the insects have even evolved thicker skins to protect themselves from common pesticides.

Until recently, there has been no reliable way of identifying a bed bug infestation until they actually start biting, but that’s all about to change as a new device enters the market that can quickly sniff out these unwelcome guests in homes, hotels, cinemas and airlines.

It has been discovered that bed bugs emit a distinct chemical odor that can now be detected by this new space-age technology. The technology was originally created to analyze the chemical composition of comets, and has now been repurposed for the fight against bed bugs.

British scientists Dr. Taff Morgan and Colin Pillinger helped build the original Ptolemy device for the Rosetta comet-landing mission. The instrument used mass spectrometry to deconstruct the chemical composition of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Mass spectrometry operates by stripping electrons away from molecules, thereby converting them into positively charged ions that exhibit a particular spectrum when passed through a magnetic field.

The scientists have now established a company, Insect Research Systems, which uses a similar concept to search for the pheromones emitted by bed bugs. Innovate UK and the European Space Agency’s business incubator funded the project.

“Bed bugs tend to come out in the dark and during the day they go and hide which makes them difficult to spot,” said Dr. Morgan. “They also have very flat bodies which means they can crawl into very small crevices where you wouldn’t be able to see them. We want to find them before they find you.”

“But bed bugs release chemicals to communicate with each other and these are what we are trying to find. It means that people could be pro-active about checking for the bugs, and making sure they aren’t present. You could screen rooms regularly and treat if they were found.”

Dr. Morgan’s bed bug detection device is a small hand-held instrument that can reveal the presence of the insects within five minutes. In the eternal battle against bed bugs, it’s one small step towards victory for mankind.

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