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Artificial plants could beat bed bugs

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Bean leaves effectively trap bed bugs

Bean plant leaves won't bite bed bugs back, but they do impale the pests though their feet. The same mechanism could one day be used to make more effective traps.

A team of scientists from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Kentucky made the discovery when they examined an old folk remedy of scattering bean leaves to stop the pests, Popular Science's Brooke Borel wrote today. The scientists observed that tiny hooks on the leaves effectively immobilize the bugs.

You might be wondering why bed bugs - the subject the famous childhood idiom "sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" - are being taken so seriously by science. The pests have become a silent scourge in homes, hotels, and even movie theaters throughout major cities worldwide. Social constructs don't matter to bed bugs: domiciles of the rich and poor are equally afflicted with infestations that can be costly and difficult to treat.

New York has a major bed bug problem. As a New Yorker, I've been witness to friends being forced to vacate their apartments, TV spots starring "Roscoe the bed bug sniffing dog", mattress encasement ads on the subway, commercials with people freezing bugs, and steaming the bugs. Bug sprays won't work. The pests, which have been a nettlesome problem throughout antiquity, have now mutated to be resistant to insecticides, and their bite is just as bad as ever.

It turns out that the bean leaf solution is as good as the best of those methods. Borel traced the approach as far back as 1678, when English philosopher John Locke traveled across Europe with a supply of kidney bean leaves as defense against bed bug bites. The Royal Austro-Hungarian Army used bean leaves to cleanse encampments and U.S. researchers observed the effect in the 1940s, Borel noted.

It's possible to replicate the effect with synthetics that can be placed within the bugs' path around beds, doors, suitcases, and other places where they reside. There's a market if the researchers scratch their entrepreneurship itch.

(image credits: M. Szyndler and C. Loudon/University of California, Irvine; WikiPedia Commons)

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— By on April 9, 2013, 12:25 PM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure