A group of researchers at the Florida International University set out to know just what it was that female mosquitoes were attracted to in humans. It’s known that exhaled carbon dioxide, body heat, and scents have always been a factor, but this group wanted to dig deeper into the genetic makeup of the mosquito and how it came into play.
Specific Gene Allows Mosquito to Smell Lactic Acid
What these researchers found was that a gene in the female mosquito antenna (females are the only mosquitoes that seek blood meals), the Ir8a, allows the mosquito to smell lactic acid in human sweat. Recognition of the gene then led to an attempt at gene-modification.
The first test modification was completed in the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The Aedes lives in countries all across the globe and carries deadly disease such as yellow fever, Zika, malaria, and dengue.
Matthew DeGennaro, a mosquito neurobiology researcher at Florida International University, states, "Removing the function of Ir8a removes approximately 50 percent of host-seeking activity.” Simply put, if the mosquitoes are less likely to seek us out and bite us there will be less spread of the diseases they carry among us.
Besides cross-breeding the genetically modified mosquitoes in the wild, in efforts to spread the modification naturally, there are other benefits. By understanding what the mosquitoes smell and how it affects them, repellents can be made more effective. Odors that mask the lactic acid smell sought by the Ir8a gene can be added to existing repellents making humans less appealing to the mosquito. Smells that attract mosquitoes can also be used in traps and pull mosquitoes away from the human population.
With the World Health Organization declaring that insecticides are becoming less useful due to resistance and climate change, research that creates not one, but several solutions is truly necessary.
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