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Giving cockroaches the slip; University seeks commercial partner to put insect pests on a slippery slope
[October 13, 2009]

Giving cockroaches the slip; University seeks commercial partner to put insect pests on a slippery slope


(M2 PressWIRE Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A breakthrough by scientists at CambridgeUniversitymay terminate the threat of termites, cockroaches and other pests such as ants and locusts - responsible for billions of pounds worth of damage to homes, crops and people's health across the globe each year.



A new type of cheap, durable, non-toxic and environmentally safe insect repellent coating has been designed by Jan-Henning Dirks, Christofer Clemente and Walter Federle at the University's Department of Zoology. These surfaces 'trick' insect feet by making them lubricate themselves.

Insects are capable of clinging to almost any natural and artificial substrate by using an emulsion with properties similar to custard or ketchup. They secrete this fluid from pads located on the bottom of their feet.


When studying insect pads in detail, the zoologists discovered that the special surface coating changes the properties of this fluid. As a consequence, the adhesive secretion turns into a lubricant and the insects start slipping, like someone with wet feet in the shower.

Jan-Henning Dirks, who has studied insect adhesion for his PhD, said about the unexpected discovery: "We first came across these surface properties quite by accident, but soon we realised that this could actually be something really useful." As the video footage of lab tests shows, insects were able to climb with ease a glass rod coated with non-stick PTFE. However, insects trying to reach an apple slice at the top of the glass rod coated with the new material slipped. On the new material, the insects' feet reached on average only about 40% of the friction forces they showed on PTFE.

The University team's surface coating has the potential to restrict the movement of many insects, including ants, cockroaches, termites and locusts, providing a novel technique to reduce the devastation, medical problems and economic loss associated with insect pests. Despite its effectiveness and durability, the new surface coating also leaves insects unharmed.

"We are very excited by the potential of this completely new approach to pest controlthat has arisen from a basic research project into insect adhesion," said Gillian Davis, Technology Manager at Cambridge Enterprise, the University's commercialisation arm.

"We have patented the technology and are now seeking a commercial partner to work with the inventors to develop the technology.

"Surfaces at risk of infestation both inside and outside the home may benefit from the insect repellent coatings. From crop protection topest-proof ventilation pipes, furniture and wellingtons, as well as insect-repellent food containers and baby bottles, the practical applications for use are endless - and hugely exciting." For further details about the technology visit the Journal of the Royal Society Interface website at: http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2009/09/14/rsif.2009.0308.full?sid=669e5d7a-3fa1-43ae-8a38-87fd5d481d3e To access the files remotely use the following details.

url: ftp://ftp.admin.cam.ac.uk/ username: octransfer password: 4rfvbgt5 The folder title: Giving Cockroaches The Slip Notes to editors Interviews with Jan-Henning Dirks, Christofer Clemente and Walter Federle are available on request.

Cambridge Enterprise Limited, Universityof Cambridge Cambridge Enterprise Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Universityof Cambridge, responsible for the commercialisation of University intellectual property. Activities include management and licensing of intellectual property and patents, proof of concept funding and support for University staff and research groups wishing to provide expert advice or facilities to public and private sector organisations. Cambridge Enterprise provides access to angel and early stage capital through the Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds and Cambridge Enterprise Venture Partners, and offers business planning, mentoring, specialist Surgeries and other related programmes.

The University leads the world in transformative research and Cambridge Enterprise is well placed to support the academics to find the best commercialisation route for their innovations either through licensing or company creation. In 2007/08 income from licensing, consultancy and equity transactions exceeded GBP10 million, of which GBP8 million represents distributions to University departments and academics.

((Comments on this story may be sent to info@m2.com)) (c) 2009 M2 COMMUNICATIONS

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