Graduate student Linxi Zhang observes live bedbugs caught in micro...

Graduate student Linxi Zhang observes live bedbugs caught in micro fiber as part of a Stony Brook University study on the production and use of a micro fiber intended to catch and kill bedbugs without harmful chemicals. (June 7, 2013) Credit: Jeremy Bales

A team of Long Island scientists and entrepreneurs has developed a new way to kill bedbugs, using webs of tiny fibers that capture the bloodsuckers much like wire snares trap larger animals.

The stress of being trapped kills the loathed pests faster, the developers say.

"When they get entangled in the fibers . . . they get very agitated and they apparently don't live longer than a couple of days," said Miriam Rafailovich, co-director of Stony Brook University's chemical and molecular engineering program.

The traps, which could hit the market by year's end, will be affordable and biodegradable, according to Richard Buono, of Brightwaters, executive vice president of FiberTrap, a new Connecticut-based company he helped found.

The product looks like a portion of corrugated roofing. The plastic fibers are "electro spun" onto an aluminum base, much like cotton candy. Each fiber is about the thickness of 1 micrometer; it would take 50 to equal the width of a human hair.

The traps are envisioned as an alternative to poisonous chemicals or other onerous bedbug control methods, which include freezing and superheating infested areas, Buono said.

Conventional approaches don't always work, especially in multifamily buildings, with some bugs either surviving or returning from adjacent apartments. Successive generations of bedbugs can also develop resistance to pesticides.

The traps exploit the bugs' typical behavior. At night, they come out to hunt by detecting the heat and carbon dioxide humans give off, experts say.

The traps are placed on furniture legs or the sides of beds, according to the scientists who created the special fibers.

"Bedbugs like to climb," said Stony Brook graduate student Shan "Harry" He, who has worked on the project with fellow graduate student Lenxi Zhang for about a year.

Rafailovich said the university has shares in the patent for the traps. She and the students do not personally profit.

Buono said a Long Island-based developer with whom he has partnered in the past sought his help about two years ago because some of the apartments he owns around the country were infested.

The developer, who funded the research, was frustrated by the high cost of spraying -- about $1,500 per apartment -- and his tenants' rotten experiences with the pest-removal process.

Buono turned to Kevin J. McAllister, FiberTrap president, who has invented medical devices. Buono said it only took McAllister about a week and a half to come up with the basic concept behind the trap.

"What would I do if the bedbug was [the size of] a dog; how would I trap it? I would put down barbed wire," McAllister said.

Zhang and He liken the traps to tiny fishnets. Sticky materials like those used in fly traps would fail, they said, because bedbugs avoid them.

The price hasn't been set, but Buono promised it will be affordable for most people.

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