Natural Insect Repellent Found to Be More Effective than DEET


NGS photo by Robert Sisson

A natural compound found in the Tauroniro tree (Humiria balsamifera) of South America has been found to deter biting of mosquitoes and to repel ticks, says research presented in the latest issue of Journal of Medical Entomology.

Researchers led by Aijun Zhang, of the U.S. Agricultural Service’s Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory, found that the compound, isolongifolenone, deters the biting of the mosquitoes more effectively than the widely used synthetic chemical repellent DEET in laboratory tests, and repelled ticks as effectively as DEET.

Mosquitoes and ticks are spreaders of diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease.

Derivatives of isolongifolenone have been widely and safely used as fragrances in cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, and paper products, and new processing methods may make it as cheap to produce as DEET, according to a news release by the Entomological Society of America.

Since “isolongifolenone is easily synthesized from inexpensive turpentine oil feedstock,” the researchers write in the release, “we are therefore confident that the compound has significant potential as an inexpensive and safe repellent for protection of large human populations against blood-feeding arthropods.”

DEET was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946 and registered for use by the general public in 1957, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. After completing a comprehensive re-assessment of DEET in 1998, EPA concluded that, as long as consumers follow label directions and take proper precautions, insect repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern.

Nonetheless, the EPA Web site lists a number of recommendations for consumers to reduce their risk of using DEET.

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn