(Photo courtesy of the Southeast Missourian)
This is not Masters' first invention. A family-practice physician, he already has five medically-related patents.
Nor is this the first time he's taken a close look at ticks. Masters has published over 30 articles on tick-borne diseases and discovered a variant of Lyme Disease. "Southern Lyme Disease was recently renamed Masters' Disease in my honor," Masters acknowledged.
But the ToM Trap, short for Tick or Mosquito Trap, may be his best idea yet.
Like many existing mosquito traps produced recently, the ToM Trap uses carbon dioxide to attract mosquitoes and ticks. One thing bloodsucking arachnids and insects have in common is they use exhaled carbon dioxide to find their food. "It is known both ticks and mosquitoes can detect carbon dioxide up to 100 feet away," Masters said.
"A mosquito can detect a one-ten-millionth variation on that," Masters said. "That's why they can detect something as small as a bird and why we have a West Nile Virus problem."
The ToM Trap probably works on other bloodsuckers like fleas and chiggers, but Masters and his team is remaining focused on ticks and mosquitoes because of the diseases they spread.
The problem with existing mosquito traps which burn propane, Masters said, is they also release carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes as they produce the carbon dioxide making them unsuitable for indoor use.
"I thought: 'There's got to be a better way than burning things to get carbon dioxide,'" Masters said.
Masters said he began brainstorming using a high school chemistry class demonstration in which vinegar and baking soda are combined to release carbon dioxide. "It doesn't last long."
In the 1990s, Masters and Dr. Tom Kollars, an entomologist who has studied mosquitoes and is now doing research in the military out of Maryland, conducted tick research projects in this area for two years. At that time they tried to invent a vinegar-and-baking soda tick trap to collect specimens but failed. "We couldn't regulate the reaction," Masters recalled.
This time around they were more determined.
After three months of brainstorming and trial and error since coming up with the idea in June, they almost had what they were looking for: a water-activated chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide without any toxic fumes.
"The chemicals are so safe if a child or pet got at them, you wouldn't need to take them to the vet or emergency room," Masters said.
Masters and Kollars finally ran across an obstacle that turned out to be a breakthrough. "The reaction kept going out, like a fire," Masters said.
They then devised a way to keep a steady, extremely slow drip of water onto the chemicals to keep the reaction going. Additionally, by installing an on-off mechanism for the water, "it ended up being a great regulatory device," Masters said.
As the ToM Trap uses no electricity and the on/off mechanism for the water is the only moving part, the ToM Trap can be produced and marketed for much less money than competing products. "And this is the first carbon dioxide trap that can be used indoors," he added.
"We have a patent pending to protect our ideas," Masters said. "Everything about the ToM Trap has a biological as well as design purpose to make the trap better, more efficient."
Colors known to attract disease-bearing mosquito and tick species are being researched and the plastic parts will absorb heat and light during the day and release them slowly during the night.
These are all just enhancements, however. "We have field tested on mosquitoes and ticks and it does work," said Masters. "It will reduce your tick and mosquito populations."
They will continue testing in Thailand and Southern Florida while waiting for North America's next mosquito and tick season. "We don't want to have a good product, we want to have the best product," said Masters' son Jordan Masters, a Sikeston High School and Southeast Missouri State University graduate and first year MBA student.
Once the prototype started looking like something that could be developed into an actual product, Jordan Masters pitched the idea of marketing his father's invention as a master's thesis to his dean. "He said that is exactly what they are looking for - instead of doing some assigned problem, doing something real."
The prototype and plastic injection molds for production, which should be ready in March, are the work of Consolidated Plastics in Bloomfield. "They've given us all kinds of attention," said Jordan Masters.
Plans are being laid for a spring release to test consumer markets around Missouri. "Our idea is to get this thing off the ground in the Show-Me State," said Jordan Masters.
Masters said they have no plans to set up a manufacturing plant themselves, but will continue to make every effort to keep as much of the manufacturing, marketing and distribution processes in Missouri as possible.
In addition to the Masters and Kollars, key members from Sikeston include Joe McPheeters, a SEMO business graduate.
Masters said at the end of the day, the team is proud of what they are working toward. "We are producing a product that will alleviate a huge amount of human suffering," said Masters.
On the Net: www.tomtrap.com