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Mosquito shield could prevent pesky insect bites, spread of diseases, study finds

7 Facts You Didn't Know About Mosquitoes

A new so-called mosquito shield could protect people from insect bites and even help reduce deadly mosquito-borne illnesses, eliminating the need for harsh chemical-based sprays.

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That's according to a new study from researchers at Brown University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Scientists were searching for ways to protect workers from chemical exposure and stumbled across a new way of warding off mosquitos.

The new shield is a multi-layer, ultra-thin graphene oxide film made from the same substance as pencil lead.

"The ultra-thin yet strong material acts as a barrier that mosquitoes are unable to bite through. At the same time, experiments showed that graphene also blocks chemical signals mosquitoes use to sense that a blood meal is near, blunting their urge to bite in the first place," researchers said in a statement.

“The mosquito basically gets bored because they can’t smell you and they can’t get an idea that you are a person that they might want to get a meal out of, so they go away,” said Dr. William Suk with the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study.

Scientists said the graphene-based shield could offer an alternative to bug sprays like DEET or spraying areas with pesticides.

"With the graphene, the mosquitoes weren't even landing on the skin patch — they just didn't seem to care," lead study researcher Cintia Castillho said.

Scientists discovered a graphene oxide film, like the one shown here, prevented mosquito bites when dry.
Scientists discovered a graphene oxide film, like the one shown here, prevented mosquito bites when dry.

Credit: Brown University

Credit: Brown University

And Castillho said that was a turning point in the research.

“We had assumed that graphene would be a physical barrier to biting, through puncture resistance, but when we saw these experiments we started to think that it was also a chemical barrier that prevents mosquitoes from sensing that someone is there,” she said.

The film also has the potential to make a major difference in the spread of potentially fatal disease such as the Zika virus, malaria and Eastern equine encephalitis.

“It’s a different approach, really, from mosquito protection to prevent them from sensing you,” researcher Dr. Robert Hurt, with Brown University, said.

The film is thinner than even a sheet of paper and can be woven into clothing as an effective mosquito barrier, scientists said, but the potential product is a long way from store shelves.

The testing on the shield took place in a laboratory and the next step for scientists is to figure out if and how it works in the real world.