Control Annoying Pests With A Scoop Of Grapefruit
September 11, 2013

Control Annoying Pests With A Scoop Of Grapefruit

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Grapefruit may be the key in a new battle against mosquitoes, ticks, head lice and bedbugs, according to research presented at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Scientists say the citrus flavor and aroma of grapefruit may find a new use in battling the pests due to less expensive ways of making the ingredient, nootkatone. This ingredient previously had to be harvested from tons of grapefruit, but a new process is making nootkatone more economically efficient, bringing it to the front lines of the battlefield.

Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that nootkatone is very effective in controlling ticks, mosquitoes and other insects. However, they saw that it was too expensive to be used as a consumer product. The CDC scientists partnered with Allylix Inc., a renewable-chemical firm, to try and develop nootkatone for commercial use as an insect-control agent.

"A new product based on nootkatone would have multiple advantages over existing mosquito repellants based on DEET," said Richard Burlingame, PhD, who presented the report at the conference. "Nootkatone is a broad-spectrum ingredient that has been shown to be effective as a control agent for mosquitoes, ticks and bedbugs. Nootkatone has been used for years to give beverages a grapefruit flavor. It is safe to eat, has a pleasant citrus flavor, is not greasy, both repels and kills insects, and should not have the toxicity concerns that exist for DEET."

Allylix and CDC scientists used technology to develop a way of producing slightly less expensive substances extracted from oranges, called valencene, from yeast growing in industrial fermentation vats. Technicians harvest this substance and use a chemical process to convert it into nootkatone. Allylix said the process made it possible to market nootkatone at a competitive price.

"The effects of nootkatone last much longer than those of repellents currently on the market," Burlingame said in a statement. "And nootkatone shows promise for being the most effective agent for the ticks that cause Lyme disease."

The grapefruit ingredient also can be used against insects that develop resistance to conventional pesticides. Nootkatone is a component of the oil in grapefruit, and has been on the US Food and Drug Administration's list of substances generally recognized as safe for use in food. It has been used commercially for years as a flavoring in foods and beverages and as a fragrance ingredient in perfumes.

The next step for the scientists is to get approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency to sell nootkatone for insect control.

"They haven't approved it yet, so no products currently on the market in the U.S. include nootkatone as an active ingredient to control pests," noted Burlingame. "But in the future, it could be a key ingredient in repellents for use on clothing or on skin as a spray, or even as a soap or shampoo."