Throughout history, diseases spread by mosquitoes to humans have probably caused more suffering than all the wars combined. Current techniques for fighting mosquitoes usually involve chemicals, but these may have side effects for us as well as the surrounding environment. Heavy clothing can help, but as anyone who has spent time outdoors where mosquitoes are rampant will know, they tend to be persistent and eventually find a way to take a bite.
Now, researchers at Brown University are reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on a new material that can disguise the wearer from mosquitoes by preventing the chemicals that mosquitoes are attracted to from penetrating across the fabric. Additionally, the material also helps to physically block mosquitoes from being able to stick their mouthparts into the skin.
The new material is made using multiple layers of graphene oxide. Graphene is a carbon sheet only one atom thick, and graphene oxide is a derivative that allows graphene to be made into large sheets.
While graphene has a whole host of unusual and exciting properties, when layered into thicker sheets it seems to block the passage of many chemicals shed by the skin and excreted through sweat. Mosquitoes use these chemicals as cues to hunt down their prey, so blocking the chemicals helps to avoid attracting mosquitoes altogether.
To prove that their material works, a few brave souls willing to be exposed to dozens of mosquitoes were recruited. Their arms were placed into a chamber full of mosquitoes, but only a small section of the skin was exposed. This section was either completely bare, covered by a cheese cloth, or the multilayer graphene oxide sheets. The results showed that the graphene-based material was so effective that the mosquitoes were generally uninterested in the juicy skin right in front of them, while they did land and took a bite of the bare skin and skin covered by cheese cloth.
Study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Mosquito bite prevention through graphene barrier layers
Flashback: Graphene: The Next Medical Revolution