September 9, 2008

Midges Get Ready to Meet Their Match

By Frank Urquhart

A NEW device, hailed as the ultimate weapon in the war against the midge, will face its toughest challenge - protecting 1,000 athletes in the Highlands.

Each year, Culicoides impunctatus - to give the beastie its Latin name - costs Scotland's tourism industry an estimated GBP 280 million in lost business.

But researchers at Aberdeen University believe they have found a novel solution to the midge menace: a "puffer" device which sends out a cocktail of natural chemicals in an invisible mist, effectively cloaking the intended human target.

On Saturday, the puffer will be put through its paces in a massive field trial at the First Monster Challenge, a 120km running and cycling event around the shores of Loch Ness. Success could pave the way for commercial production.

The device was developed by Professor Jenny Mordue, an expert in pest control and midges at Aberdeen University's department of zoology, and research institute Rothamsted.

Prof Mordue said: "This is something entirely new. The device stops midges coming towards you, whereas with all the other repellents on the market, the midge has to land on the skin before they work.

"Midges recognise any host from a variety of cues that come from our breath and from our skin.

"But what these chemicals do is mask those attractant clues. It is like hiding yourself behind these particular chemicals."

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