Graphene may serve as an excellent barrier against mosquitoes, according to a new study. This, of course, has deeper implications as the potential for a remarkably effective tool for preventing the spread of deadly diseases like Zika, malaria, and dengue.
The ultra-thin but inversely strong material was first isolated, in a laboratory, in 2004 by a team of scientists at the University of Manchester. Only one-atom thick, the carbon-based material is—somewhat magically—200 times stronger than steel and can even conduct electricity and heat while remaining pliable as well.
The implications for this material has been theorized in everything from batteries to airplanes to tennis rackets, but this is the first time it has been conceptualized in a global health application.
Lead study author Robert Hurt comments, “Mosquitoes are important vectors for disease all over the world, and there’s a lot of interest in non-chemical mosquito bite protection.”
As such, the Brown University School of Engineering professor notes, they have been working on developing fabrics which incorporate graphene as barrier against things like toxic chemicals when it occurred to them that this might have other uses. Indeed, he concludes, “We though maybe graphene could provide mosquito bit protection as well.”
And then, like all great scientists, the team set out to test the theory. Essentially they just recruited a handful of volunteers to wear test materials in a fully-enclosed arena of disease-free mosquitoes. Basically, they would wear a sleeve of graphene material with a small patch of exposed skin. Other volunteers would wear cheesecloth as protection while others had bare skin.
Comparing the three test cohorts, the researchers found that both the bare skin and cheesecloth-covered skin were covered in bites while those wearing the graphene oxide (GO) material did not receive a single bite.
Lead study author Cintia Castilho comments “With the graphene, the mosquitoes weren’t even landing on the skin patch—they just didn’t seem to care.”
The Brown University PhD students adds, “We had assumed that graphene would be a physical barrier to biting, through puncture resistance, but when we saw these experiments we started to think that it was also a chemical barrier that prevents mosquitoes from sensing that someone is there.”