Researchers are developing chemical-free, mosquito-proof clothing

Mosquito bites are not pleasant.

“It takes and wiggles that mouth pore through the threads in your clothing,” said Michael Roe, a professor in North Carolina State University’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

And sometimes even a shirt can’t stop them from reaching you. “They can bite through animal fur, they can bite through your clothes,” Roe said.

But in this lab, Roe and his team are developing something to change that, using mosquitoes they raise in their own home.

“We were able to develop a set of parameters that every textile has, and by combining these parameters in the right way, you can prevent a mosquito from biting through this textile,” he explained.

This textile is a chemical free lightweight fabric that is mosquito resistant. And it has gone through many tests.

“There are different levels of testing, the first level is an in vitro system that we have developed,” Roe said. Basically it’s a small cage full of mosquitoes.

“If it’s successful in preventing mosquito bites, we go to what we call stage two, where we put the cloth around a subject’s arm,” he said. The arm is then placed in the cage for testing.

The third test consists of covering a person with the clothes and putting them in a cage full of mosquitoes. “From this we can make a decision about whether we have a garment that is bite resistant,” Roe said.

The North Carolina State University team hopes 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 life saving.

“It carries disease and has caused more deaths than any other animal on the planet,” said Rich Cohen, owner of Mosquito Joe Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill. “The mosquito season usually starts in early spring, through mid to late autumn.”

The CDC calls mosquitoes the world’s deadliest animal because they transmit diseases like malaria and viruses like Zika. In 2017, for example, 435,000 people died from malaria. Millions contract the disease each year, and mosquitoes help spread it every time they draw blood from a human or animal.

The team behind this new mosquito-proof material hopes this is just another solution to curbing those numbers.

“I want to launch something soon. However, we need a manufacturing partner to make the textile,” said Mark Self, CEO of Vector Textiles. He is responsible for the commercialization of the invention, which has stalled due to COVID-19. However, they work with several outdoor brands.

“We feel like we have a unique way of marketing by having an organic, chemical-free story to tell,” he said. “Our aim is to be an ingredient brand for an outdoor clothing manufacturer.”

“When you’re shopping for a jogging outfit or something for the park, why not buy bite-resistant clothing. It can look like everyday wear,” Roe said.

And it’s not just for clothes. Through this process, they found that these tools can be used beyond what you’ll find in a department store.

“There were many unexpected results. For example, a textile that, when it covers a plant, prevents insects from getting to the plant and eating the plant,” Roe said.

They also design a romper for babies in Africa to prevent malaria infections. “A lot of kids there get malaria in the first few years of their lives,” Roe said.

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