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See Inside July 2011

Scent of a Human: The Battle against Mosquitoes

Decoding how a mosquito sniffs out human targets could lead to better traps and repellents that cut malaria's spread



David Scharf

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.

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