Researchers from Northwestern University and Lund University have found that catnip – your feline's fave recreational drug – is at least as effective as DEET at repelling insect pests.
Catnip, a well-known member of the Mint plant family, has long been touted as a natural insect repellent. Ancient Romans including such luminaries as Pliny the Elder extolled the plant's bug-off benefits, according to Marcus C. Stensmyr, associate professor at Lund University. Stensmyr is a co-corresponding author of a study recently published in the journal Current Biology that explains why this natural herbal attractant of cats from torties to tigers is remarkably effective at warding off insect pests.
"We discovered that Catnip (specifically its active ingredient ,Nepetalactone) activates TRPA1... an ancient pain receptor found in animals as diverse as flatworms, fruit flies and humans," explained Marco Gallio, associate professor of neurobiology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "We now think Catnip is so aversive to so many insect species because it activates this widespread irritant receptor."
The TRPA1 (transient receptor potential ankyrin-1) ion channel has been dubbed by scientists as “the wasabi receptor" because natural compounds in aromatic plants such as Japanese horseradish or garlic act as environmental irritants, prompting an involuntary pain and/or itch response.
How does catnip come into the picture? “Unlike wasabi or garlic compounds that also activate these receptors in humans, catnip appears to selectively activate the insect receptor," states Gallio. "This explains why humans are indifferent to it, and provides a serious advantage for its use as a (natural insect) repellent."
"Once we understand its chemistry and how it interacts with the receptor,” adds Gallo, “we could design even more powerful and selectively targeted molecules." In the meantime, backyard battlers in the war against mosquitos could always fortify their patios with a brace of potted catnip bushes.
Then again, your catnip-cloistered sanctuary would likely end up attracting a different type of creature known more for their “MEOW” instead of their “OWW!” You win some, you lose some! (via PhysOrg, images via Corey Barnes, “T”eresa, and Steve Levenstein)