Five NC State Profs Make Mosquitoes Buzz Off Without Chemicals

The NC State research team that developed the technology that Vector Textiles is trying to commercialize.

Six years ago, five NC State Professors from three different departments collaborated over a shared vision: to design products that lower the risk of disease and death from mosquitos, and increase crop yields for farmers while lowering water usage—all without using any chemicals or pesticides.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mosquito bites cause more deaths to humans—more than one million per year —than any other organism on the planet. Malaria accounts for the majority of those deaths, with children under 5 comprising the majority of deaths by malaria.

In reaction to a 2018 “Solider of the Future” grant from the Department of Defense totaling $1 million, the team of professors founded Vector Textiles, a NC State spin-out company with three patents sub-licensed from the university. The five professors are Mike Roe, Marian McCord, Charles Apperson, Andres West, and Emiel DenHartog. The professors represent three departments at N.C. State: College of Textiles, College of Natural Resources, and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. 

“Our goal is to develop a new way of thinking about personal protection from insect bites and how to grow crops without the use of chemical pesticides,” said Roe, a professor of insect toxicology and physiological genomics. “It is possible—and the future is now.”

Vector Textiles will be presenting at CED’s virtual Venture Connect summit (March 23-25).

One of the patents is for a chemical-free athletic fabric with a bite-resistant design. Mark Self, the President and CEO of Vector Textiles, said the company signed a partnership with Carvico, an Italian fabric manufacturer, to manufacture the fabric. They are also working with with two outdoor apparel companies under non-disclosure agreements who will integrate the fabric in their clothing.

Capturing Value With Nets

Another patent is for a mosquito bed net that, instead of using chemicals to kill mosquitos, uses a unique cone design to trap them. Malaria accounts for 800 infant deaths a day in Africa. Besides the bed net, Vector Textiles also created an infant onesie that implements the same chemical-free mosquito-resistant design as the bed nets. 

“A lot of nets right now are treated with a chemical called permethrin, which has a couple of issues,” Self said. “For one, you’re introducing chemicals into the environment, and mosquitoes also have the ability to develop resistance to these chemicals over time.”

Self said they are close to getting the net officially qualified by the WHO, a step which would put the nets on the approved “shopping lists” that countries and nonprofits buy from. 

Self said they are in advanced discussions with A to Z Textile Mills, a manufacturing company in Tanzania, to provide manufacturing and distribution capabilities in Africa. Self said their plan is start distributing the nets in Africa in 2021. 

The third patent is for a plant-protection layer that cuts water usage in half while doubling crop yields, as well as protects plants from infestation. By replacing pesticide-dependent alternatives, the plant layer eliminates the amount of pesticides accidentally released into the environment.  

Self said they are still in early discussions with potential go-to-market partners for the plant armor, such as Scotts, a company that sells lawn and garden products, and BASF, one of the leading research companies in the area of sustainable agriculture products. 

In 2017, Vector Textiles won NC State’s Chancellor’s Innovation Award for $75,000. In 2020, Vector Textiles finished second for a “Daugherty Grant” in NC State’s Lulu eGames competition, receiving a $15,000 grant.

Self said that because organizations like the World Health Organization require a lot of documentation to give their approval for products like the mosquito bed net, the company is looking into receiving government-based grants like the SBIR to further prove out the science.