Research in the development of spatial insect repellents continues to be of paramount importance as insect-transmitted diseases remain a threat wherever mosquito populations exist.
Dr. Paige Buchanan, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at The University of Southern Mississippi, has been working with the Army on topics related to the development and application of spatial insect repellents. A spatial repellent relies on a significant concentration of the repellent in the vapor phase to “repel” mosquitoes.
Although active military personnel and travelers to tropical environments may be more at risk, no area is immune. Along with classical methods to prevent exposure, such as the use of window screens and bed nets, protective garments and the disciplined use of skin and textile repellents are universally considered the best means of defense against mosquito-borne illnesses. Spatial repellents may be synthetic in nature or plant-derived essential oils, such as DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
In conversations with Army collaborators, Buchanan discovered that there is a lack of experimental methods to probe the efficacy of spatial repellents when applied to textiles, such as tents and clothing.
Buchanan, a physical organic chemist, is working with collaborator Dr. Donald Yee, associate professor of biological sciences at Southern Miss, to develop new testing methodologies, which if successful, will produce a new standard assessment protocol for spatial repellent treated textiles.
“We want to answer the important questions of ‘how much repellent to apply and in what form; how long does it remain active; in what real-life environments can it be tested; and applied to which substrates?” said Buchanan. Her new grant: “Development, Verification, and Validation of Spatial repellent Test Methods” seeks to systematically explore these questions.
“Most of us have used spatial repellents. Mosquitoes are a persistent problem, as we go through the woods or sit in our yards, spraying DEET. It’s still a persistent problem,” said Buchanan. “The best way to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses is to not be in contact with the mosquito in the first place.”
Buchanan said that she is pleased to have assembled a multidisciplinary group of faculty researchers and students from chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering disciplines to work on the project. “In order to achieve a big project, it takes all kinds of people,” she said.
At the end of the two-year program, Buchanan and her group will present a new instrumentation suite to the U.S. Army that will provide information concerning the efficacy of spatial repellents on various textiles, when placed in simulated real-world environments.
“It is my hope of course that we succeed. I hope to develop and deliver an instrument used by the Army that will become their new standard test method,” said Dr. Buchanan.
Buchanan has been a member of the Southern Miss faculty for 10 years. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, Buchanan said, “Working with students, because they keep me young.” She also mentions that she loves to see her students grow and evolve, and every project opportunity that she has been involved in, she lets them get the experience as well.