Science News

Researchers Discover Mosquito Attractant

Sun, 25th Jan 2004

Part of the show Quantum Mechanics & The Science of Spiderman

Researchers have discovered how female mosquitoes home in on us for a meal. The scientists from Yale University, led by John Carlson, have found that the antennae of Anopheles mosquitos – the type that spread malaria – contain receptors that respond to the presence of one of the chemical compounds found in human sweat. Called 4-methylphenol, the sweat chemical is said to smell like a stable full of horses. Crucially, only female mosquitoes, the ones that bite and spread diseases, have the gene for the sweat-chemical receptor. After they have had a satisfying blood-meal, the gene is then switched off, suggesting that it plays a major role in helping mosquitoes track down their victims. Researchers hope that a better understanding of the mosquito sense of smell will lead to improved insect repellents, for people and animals, and the perfect mosquito-bait for traps. The ultimate goal is to reduce the huge annual death toll caused by malaria and other mosquito-spread diseases.

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