Plant shows promise as mosquito repellent, insecticide - News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Plant shows promise as mosquito repellent, insecticide

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We are all trying to find ways to stop mosquitoes from biting us.

At Ohio State, scientists have found a promising potential natural repellent and insecticide.

"This species (of mosquitoes) is one of the primary nuisances and threats to global health," explained Peter Piermarini, an associate professor of entomology in Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Now there is promising research of a chemical in a plant only grown in Madagascar that repels and kills the type of mosquitoes that carry Zika, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

"It doesn't just kill mosquitoes but if you put it on a surface, they actively avoid it," said Piermarini.

Piermarini and Liva Rakotondraibe, an assistant professor in Ohio State's College of Pharmacy, made the discovery that they hope will pave the way for a natural repellent and insecticide.

Rakotondraibe is from Madagascar and brought the compounds from the Cinnamosma fragrans tree, commonly called mandravasarotra, with him to Columbus. The bark is used in traditional medicines on the island.

"It's very exciting to me first, because it's a plant from Madagascar and it's endemic. So endemic means only Madagascar you can find it. The chemical components are very unique. It's also natural and most of the insecticides that have been used are not natural. So this will help the community a lot. I think this is very very exciting," Rakotondraibe said.

The bark from the small tree worked equally well on mosquitoes resistant to common insecticides.

"These fragrant molecules are contributing to, I think, some of these activities which is kind of interesting and it smells really pleasant. It's almost like when you open up a spice rack and you kind of have that peppery aroma that's what the bark smells like," Piermarini said.

The active ingredient, cinnamodial, activates the same receptors in mosquitoes that help us pick up pain from hot surfaces and spicy foods.

"It would be like going up to something and getting a blast of wasabi in your face and so you can imagine the reaction you would have to that," explained Piermarini.

"If we do develop an insecticide based on cinnamodial, it could potentially be used to mitigate insecticide resistance in the field against mosquitoes that are resistant to our conventional insecticides. That also suggests it works on a novel mechanism of toxicity that hasn't been exploited yet by some of our conventional insecticides. So that makes it a potentially more valuable molecule because it seems to be exploiting something novel that other chemistries haven't quite yet," Piermarini said.

The research builds upon what plants have done in nature to ward off insects.

"These plants have been dealing with insects for millions of years and so we're just trying to exploit something that nature has evolved on its own and see if we can improve upon it. We're just kind of trying to build on the momentum that the plants have been working on for who knows how many millions of years," Piermarini said.

He added, "I think it's serendipitious these molecules also happen to work on mosquitoes so hopefully we can use that to get a leg up on mosquitoes."

The product is not yet ready for market, the scientists say it could take maybe five years. Another hurdle is the limited supply of the plant in Madagascar, so they have to find a way to cultivate it.

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