Mosquito bites are not pleasant.
“It takes and wiggles that mouth pore through the threads in your clothing,” Michael Roe, a professor at the North Carolina State University Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, said.
And sometimes, even a shirt can’t prevent them from getting to you. "They can bite through animal fur, they can bite through your clothing,” Roe said.
But, at this lab, Roe and his team are developing something to change that, using mosquitoes they raise in-house.
“We've been able to develop a series of parameters that every textile has, and by having the right combination of those parameters you can prevent a mosquito from biting through that textile,” he explained.
That textile is a chemical-free, lightweight fabric that’s mosquito-proof. And it’s gone through many tests.
“There are different tiers of testing, the first tier is an in vitro system we’ve developed,” Roe said. Basically, it’s a small cage full of mosquitoes.
“If it’s successful in preventing mosquito bites, then we go to what we call tier two, which is where we put the cloth around a subject's arm,” he said. The arm is then put into the cage for testing.
The third test is covering a person with the garments and putting them in a cage full of mosquitoes. “From that, we can make a decision whether we have a garment that’s bite-proof,” Roe said.
The team at North Carolina State University is hoping to make full garments, from leggings to shirts and beyond, and do even more testing.
Why the focus on such a small insect? It could be lifesaving.
“It transmits disease and has caused more deaths than any other animal on the planet,” Rich Cohen, the owner of Mosquito Joe Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill, said. “Mosquito season typically starts in early spring, through the middle to the latter part of fall.”
The CDC calls mosquitoes the world’s deadliest animal because they transmit diseases like malaria and viruses like Zika. For example, in 2017, 435,000 people died from malaria. Millions become ill from the disease each year, and mosquitoes help spread it every time they take blood from a human or animal.
The team behind this new mosquito-proof material hopes this is just one more solution to help curb those numbers.
“I’d like to have something out on the market soon. However, we need a manufacturing partner to make the textile,” Mark Self, the CEO of Vector Textiles, said. He is in charge of commercializing the invention, which has been stalled due to COVID-19. However, they are working with multiple outdoor brands.
“We feel like we have a unique way to market in that we have an organic, chemical-free story to tell,” he said. “Our aspiration is to be an ingredient brand for name an outdoor apparel manufacturer.”
“Why not buy clothing that is bite-proof, if you're going to buy a jogging outfit or something to wear to the park. It can look like everyday clothing,” Roe said.
And it’s not just for clothing. Through this process, they have found that these tools can be used beyond what you find in a department store.
“There’s been a lot of unexpected outcomes from this. For example, a textile that prevents insects when it’s covering a plant from getting to the plant and eating the plant,” Roe said.
They are also designing a onesie for babies in Africa, to help prevent malaria infections. “Many children there contract malaria the first couple years of their life,” Roe said.