Convinced you are a mosquito magnet? Science Says There Could Be a Good Reason | Science and technology news
Some people really are “mosquito magnets” — and it probably has to do with their smell, according to a new study.
Researchers have found that those most attractive to mosquitoes produce many specific chemicals on their skin that are linked to odors.
And there is bad news for all the mosquito magnets: the bloodsuckers stay loyal to their darlings in the long run.
“If you have a lot of this stuff on your skin, you’re going to be the one eating all the bites at the picnic,” said study author Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York.
To put mosquito magnetism to the test, the researchers designed an experiment that pitted people’s scents against each other, explained author Maria Elena De Obaldia.
A total of 64 volunteers from the university and surrounding areas were asked to wear nylon stockings around their forearms to absorb their skin odors.
The stockings were placed in separate traps at the end of a long tube, then dozens of mosquitoes were released.
“They would basically rave about the most attractive subjects,” Ms De Obaldia said. “It became very obvious right away.”
The biggest mosquito magnet was around 100 times more attractive to the mosquitoes than the last place.
Mosquitoes have “backup plans”
The experiment used the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads diseases such as yellow fever, Zika and dengue fever.
Matt DeGennaro, a neurogeneticist at Florida International University, said: “By testing the same people over multiple years, the study showed that these large differences persist.
“Mosquito magnets seem to stay mosquito magnets,” he added.
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The study found a common factor: Mosquito magnets had high levels of certain acids on their skin.
These “fatty molecules” are part of the skin’s natural moisture layer, and people produce them in varying amounts, Ms Vosshall said.
The healthy bacteria that live on the skin eat up these acids and produce part of our skin’s odor profile, she said.
The results were published in the journal Cell and could help to find new mosquito repellent methods.
Jeff Riffell, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study, said, “There may be ways to tinker with skin bacteria and alter people’s enticing smells.”
But he added that finding ways to repel mosquitoes has remained difficult as the critters have evolved into “sleek, mean-spirited biting machines.”
Ms Vosshall added: “Mosquitoes are resilient. They have many backup plans to be able to find and bite us.”
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