There has been a huge increase in bedbug infestations – in homes, hotels, dorm rooms and even movie theaters. Once a pest of the past, bedbugs now infest every state in the U.S. Many bedbugs are now resistant to pesticides, so getting rid of these pests is neither easy nor cheap.
Now microbiologists are using a fungus called Beauveria bassiana, a natural organism that causes disease in insects, against these blood-sucking pests.
"One hundred percent of the bedbugs will die if they’ve contacted the fungus,” said Nina Jenkins, a microbiologist at the Pennsylvania State University.
A fungus is a kind of microbe, different from bacteria and viruses. Some are harmless to humans, but can infect insects. In tests, the fungus Beauveria bassiana was sprayed onto a fabric similar to bed sheet material.
“We spray barriers around the areas where we know that the bedbugs will walk,” Jenkins explained.
When the bedbugs came in contact with the fungus they became infected and died in about three days. But, before infected bugs die, they can take the fungus back to others that are hiding.
“The key benefit of this is that we’re able to target those bugs that are hiding in the cracks and crevices that can’t otherwise be treated with a chemical,” Jenkins said.
The long-lasting fungal treatment is cheaper than traditional methods and will soon go through Environmental Protection Agency tests to see if it can be made available nationwide.
“Our fungal spray will last as a barrier over a period of months,” said Jenkins.
Biopesticide products based on similar strains of the fungus have been developed for use against horticultural and agricultural pests around the world.