60-Second Science

Malarial Mice Smell Better to Mosquitoes

Mice infected with the parasites that cause their type of malaria produce odorous compounds that attract mosquitoes, increasing the odds that the parasites will be spread to the next victims
Getting malaria stinks. Literally. According to a new study, malaria victims give off odors that attracts mosquitoes. And the insects that feed on the infected sufferer are then more likely to spread the disease. The work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Consuelo M. De Moraes et al, Malaria-induced changes in host odors enhance mosquito attraction]
Malaria is caused by plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted by mosquitoes. A decade ago, scientists found that Kenyan kids infected with plasmodium were more attractive to mosquitos than were kids who were parasite-free. But they did not know what drew the bloodsuckers to the unfortunate infected children.
To find out, researchers took mice that harbored the rodent version of malaria and put the animals in a wind chamber. And they found that mosquitos flocked toward the infected animals, attracted by their smell alone.
By chemically analyzing the animals’ scents, the researchers found that the parasites boost the levels of a variety of odorous compounds that attract mosquitoes. So plasmodium is manipulating both its victim and its carrier to get itself spread far and wide.
The finding may help with malaria prevention: if we can mask or harness the eau d’ infection, maybe we could nose the mosquitoes away from people.
—Karen Hopkin
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
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