Monday, July 2, 2012

Mosquitoes bite based on how we smell

Summer is upon us in the northern hemisphere, and in most parts of the world this is accompanied by a fair dose of nasty mosquitoes. These little creatures are out there to get some of our blood, but it appears that while some people always get targeted, others manage to stay clear from mosquito bites. Scientists from University of Notre Dame figured out why mosquitoes bite us, and it appears that smell is an important factor. It may help us treat malaria and similar diseases.

Olfactory senses
It was already known that mosquitoes have a great sense of smell and have well-developed olfactory senses, and that they are capable of smelling us. They are able to pick up fairly typical human scents, and according to the scientists small concentrations are enough to direct them towards us. One of the substances that mosquitoes pick up is nonanal, which is produced by humans and explains why they always manage to find us. However, birds also produce nonanal, and it is known that they play a role in insect-transmittable diseases.
Less well-known is the interest that mosquitoes have in plants. In addition to picking up human scents, plants provide mosquitoes with necessary sugars, and they also produce chemical signals that can be picked up. Actually, they spend a rather large proportion of their time feeding off plants, meaning we are not their primary target. This information could be used to draw their attention away from us.

Studies involving how it is mosquitoes smell us and are consequently able to suck our blood need to help us in developing new insect repellents. By knowing what it is they smell, and disturbing or modifying the availability of these substances, we may effectively 'blind' mosquitoes, leaving them unable to feed off human beings. Because several nasty diseases, such as malaria, are transmitted by mosquitoes, this type of research may even save lives. 

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