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Finding An All-Natural Alternative To DEET

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Since West Nile Virus was first identified more than a decade ago, applying bug spray became a must for summer outings. But sprays containing DEET can be a turn off. They can be smelly and feel greasy. 

That’s why Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers started looking into other options. In 2005, the agency announced two other ingredients that have effective repellant qualities: picardin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

There’s also another option researchers at the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in Fort Collins are investigating.

It’s called nootkatone. It’s what gives grapefruit its essence and it’s a compound that can be derived from oil in the Alaska Yellow Cedar Tree and citrus fruit

It works by making insects like mosquitoes and ticks hyperactive.


Unlike Any Other Repellant

Nootkatone blocks a particular receptor on insects’ nerve cells, making them hyperactive. Mosquitoes can actually vibrate themselves to death. By contrast DEET works as a repellant and confuses insect sensors so they’re less likely to land on you.

“What really makes this exciting is that nootkatone is considered food grade by the FDA and EPA,” said Marc Dolan, a CDC researcher. “It’s extremely effective.”

Studies performed by Dolan and his team have shown that a 2 percent formulation of nootkatone in water results in a 98 percent control of ticks.

“Nootkatone has what’s been determined to be a novel mode of action,” explained Dolan. “So there’s nothing registered on the market that kills the way this product does.”

CDC Signs Licensing Agreements

Nootkatone’s novel properties are capturing the attention of the obscure but billion dollar flavor and fragrance industry.

The CDC recently signed licensing agreements with Allylix and Valent BioSciences Corp. for commercial product development.

Allylix has developed a way to produce nootkatone via a fermentation process in a lab.

“In that way we can make them in higher quality and at a lower cost than if you had to try to isolate them from nature,” said Seth Goldblum, vice president of business development at Allylix.

That’s important because it means that nootkatone could one day become part of mainstream insecticidal soaps, lotions and sunscreens.

"...nootkatone is considered food grade by the FDA and EPA."

And it’s good news for those who hate applying bug repellant, says the CDC’s Marc Dolan.

“Hopefully if we can come up with these soaps and lotions that people can use and make part of their everyday routine, they don’t have to make that conscious effort of putting on a repellant,” said Dolan.

In Colorado, where West Nile Virus is a threat, that’s beneficial. Maybe even more useful for those on the East Coast who have to worry about Lyme disease carried by ticks.

While a nootkatone product isn’t expected for a few years, Dolan is continuing his research. He’s recently been trying it on lice, and he’s started ramping up bedbug colonies for future testing.

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