Natural Tick Repellent Identified in Fungus

by lmatthews on March 8, 2012

Natural Tick Repellent Identified in Fungus

Controlling deer doesn't seem to work so can this new natural tick repellent lower Lyme disease risks?

Rising tick populations and increased cases of Lyme disease mean that the hunt is on for an effective acaricide (tick-killer). Scientists in Fairfield, Connecticut, may have found just that in the form of a fungus that kills the ticks that carry Lyme disease bacteria. Further testing needs carrying out but commercial production of the mycopesticide looks set for 2014, offering home-owners their very own Lyme disease prevention method.

Tick-Killers in Connecticut

Recently bought out by the Danish biotechnology company Novozymes Biologics Inc., Earth Biosciences identified the fungus and studied its potential to kill the ticks that carry Lyme disease and co-infections. Unfortunately, the small Connecticut company did not have the money to really develop the product and so, in 2006, they agreed to a takeover by the company that describes itself as a world-leader in bio-innovation. Employing more than 5,000 people in thirty countries, Novozymes certainly had the ability to take the potential tick-killer and run with it.

Tick-Prevention Trials of Tic-Ex

Production is set to begin at a purpose-built facility in Canada, where reports of Borrelia-carrying ticks continue to grow. Tick-Ex is thought likely to reach the consumer in 2014. Field trials are still being conducted however and so no price indication has been given, with the company waiting for confirmation of its effectiveness compared to existing products and the identification of other uses for the fungus-based acaricide. Tests are also being carried out to observe the product’s effectiveness as a pesticide for use on fruits and vegetables, not just for ticks, and, if successful, this would lower the cost of the product.

A Safe Mycopesticide for Lyme Disease-Carrying Ticks

The tick-killing properties of Tick-Ex is its key attraction however, with Dr. Stephen Sears, an epidemiologist in Maine noting that whatever lowers the numbers of ticks in an area also lowers human exposure and cases of Lyme disease. Deadly to the black-legged ticks that carry Borrelia burgdorferi (the Lyme disease bacteria), Tick-Ex is the simple version of a chemical made from the F52 strain of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae which is a naturally-occurring organism in the soil. The natural origin of the pesticide means that many of the concerns over synthetic chemicals used in pest control may be side-stepped. There appears to be no effect of Tick-Ex on honeybees, earthworms, or other animals and organisms considered environmentally beneficial.


How Effective is Tick-Ex?

The Connecticut Agricultutal Experiment Station (CAES) carried out field trials of Earth Bioscience’s early product and it was this research that helped the company achieve product registration through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), necessary for the spray to be sold in the future. Currently used pesticides for tick control are 85-100% effective at killing unwanted organisms but their synthetic chemical basis means that they are often indiscriminate in the killing affecting beneficial insects and the humans and animals also exposed to the chemicals. An organically-produced acaricide for effective tick-control would be an attractive option for many, especially those who have already experienced Lyme disease and are concerned about the added burden of synthetic chemicals on an unhealthy body. The CAES found that the fungus-based tick-killer resulted in 74% fewer ticks on the residential properties in northwestern Connecticut where tests were conducted. Other tick control methods include such things as keeping guinea fowl which eat ticks, although the effectiveness of such practices has not been properly studied.

A Fitting Finding

As Connecticut still has the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the US, relative to population, the market for Tick-Ex here will likely be pretty steady and it seems fitting that it was discovered in an area with close ties to the origins of Lyme disease. Lyme disease education and awareness have helped patients get diagnosed quicker and treated earlier but this alone does not appear to account for the increase in cases year on year. If left untreated, Lyme disease can severely affect the heart, central nervous system, and the joints and leave chronic symptoms. Deer-control methods to limit the host reservoir for ticks has not proven particularly successful in Connecticut and so other methods of tick-control are under investigation.

An Organic Tick-Repellent for Widespread Use

The benefit of Tick-Ex being naturally-sourced is that it is suitable for use on areas of wetland where other, synthetic, pesticides would endanger shellfish and other wildlife. Twenty-seven centers are to be chosen to take part in tests this spring which will take place on the eastern seaboard where ticks are a growing problem. Already registered with the EPA and in fifty states there are those calling for Tick-Ex to be made available now to combat the forecasted rise in Lyme disease cases after a mild winter and spring perfect for a tick population explosion.

Other Tick-Repellents

Future acaricides brought to market may include ones based on nootkatone, derived from grapefruit and Alaskan Yellow cedar essential oil. Highly toxic to ticks and very effective in tests it is still a long way from becoming a commercially-viable product as the cedar oil is currently only manufactured for cosmetic and food use so is relatively expensive. Other products tested and found effective include a garlic spray which suppresses tick activity for two weeks or so, and a rosemary oil tick-repellent (EcoExempt) which also works for around two weeks. Tick-Ex looks set to be the favorite in this new raft of acaricides, especially as the product appears effective in killing bedbugs as well as killing the ticks that carry Lyme disease bacteria.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: