- Scientists have not fully understood how mosquitoes distinguish the smell of human breath and sweat from other odors in nature.
- The authors inserted mosquito genes in laboratory fruit flies to create smell detectors and tested their sensitivity to 110 odorants. The experiments showed that a small set of mosquito smell detectors are highly tuned to human scents.
- Identifying chemicals that can fool or block the tuned receptors could lead to improved traps and repellents that can help reduce malaria’s spread.
More In This Article
Mosquitoes have remarkably refined powers of smell. The insects that spread malaria across sub-Saharan Africa come exquisitely equipped to find human blood. They home in on the scent of human breath and sweat and swiftly insert their needlelike mouthparts into the target’s skin. As they dine, their saliva transmits the malaria parasite into the wound. With a simple bite, they can ultimately take a life.
Other mosquitoes prefer different species—say, cattle or birds. Some, it seems, even favor selected individuals within the target group; certain people at a summer barbeque will be attacked relentlessly, yet others will remain unbitten. And some mosquitoes can identify their victims from more than 165 feet.
This article was originally published with the title Scent of a Human.