A fabric sample created in a laboratory at an American university may seem ordinary at first glance, but it serves a unique purpose. John Beckmann, an assistant professor of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University, explains that this material, designed with a distinctive knit and geometric structure, has the ability to prevent mosquito bites as reported by SA People News.
Addressing the global issue of mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit, Beckmann sought a fresh approach.
Mosquitoes cause significant harm worldwide, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, particularly among young children in developing nations, due to diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus. Even non-disease-transmitting mosquito bites are highly bothersome, leading to illness and work disruptions for millions of people.
Regular Long-Sleeve Shirts Don’t Prevent Mosquito Bites
Contrary to common belief, regular long-sleeve shirts are ineffective in protecting against mosquito bites. The research team conducted tests on various clothing samples, including tight-knit fabrics like compression gear from leading sports brands, only to discover that they did not block mosquito bites.
To study this phenomenon, the scientists allowed themselves to be bitten by mosquitoes by placing their arms inside an enclosure. During the study, they wore sleeves made from different fabrics and found that woven fabrics have larger gaps between fibres, making it easy for mosquitoes to penetrate and bite. The mosquito’s proboscis, the slender needle-like structure it uses for biting, is longer than the thickness of most fabrics.
According to a preprint paper by the researchers, the mosquito’s anatomy includes a remarkable component called a fascicle, consisting of “six serrated blades and microneedles.”
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These components can flex at 90-degree angles, and adjacent parts known as stylets resemble tiny vibrating drills, enabling them to “saw” through the skin.
Utilising programmable knitting machines, the research team conducted extensive experiments to identify a pattern capable of blocking mosquito bites. Beckmann explains that knitting involves creating loops and interweaving them, similar to tying small knots. A chainmail-like structure can be achieved at the microscopic level by employing specific geometric techniques, ensuring that the fabric remains impenetrable even as it stretches or bends.
Maintaining Comfort in Hot Climates
The team then faced the challenge of ensuring comfort in hot climates affected by mosquito-borne diseases. They managed to alter the fabric’s structure to prevent mosquito bites while maintaining airflow. After refining the comfort, some students compared it to active-wear leggings. Currently, the team is working with a blend of Spandex and polyester, but the knitting pattern can be applied to various materials.
The team plans to further improve the fabric and launch a clothing line. They also hope to license the knitting pattern to clothing manufacturers for diverse applications, including baby clothing. The production costs are not expected to be much higher than standard textile manufacturing.
Photo by Jimmy Chan