Mosquitoes are those deadly creatures that claim millions of human lives across the world, according to WHO, but, a new study has shown that there could be a way of training and keeping these blood-suckers away for good.
The idea of training a tiny mosquito might seem a little far-fetched, but researchers at the University of Washington actually managed to do it by simulating the effect of swatting or slapping a bug.
Mosquitoes are attracted to a person by his/her scent and if that person counterattacks by slapping, the insect sees it as a near-death encounter and remembers that particular odour as a warning signal, National Geographic reported.
This way, it stays away from the looming danger and feeds from the next best option. The researchers demonstrated this learning and remembering capability in a study published in journal Current Biology.
Specifically, they checked how diseased mosquitoes would react if their feeding attempt is disturbed by an annoying human. They got a few mosquitoes around different odour sources and created vibrations similar to the reverberations that occur in an arm after being slapped.
Within minutes, the researchers noticed, the mosquitoes learned to associate vibrations with a particular scent and used that information to avoid its source for more than 24 hours. During this time, instead of chasing the odour linked with the threat-signal, they chased the next-best scent. The team said the effect was nearly as good as using a mosquito repellent.
As the ability to learn in humans and animals is linked to a chemical in the brain called dopamine, the researchers gene-edited the mosquitoes to see if they could still process the odour this well and remember the life-threatening signal of a swat without the presence of dopamine.
They found the insects failed to remember the scent and did what they were supposed to, even with danger looming around. Disabling dopamine could impair mosquitoes' learning and take away their ability to recognise and avoid incoming swats, researchers concluded.
However, their study could have a bigger impact and help scientists understand how these insects pick their host, which could lead to better ways of preventing disease transmission. "By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviours, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviours," says Jeff Riffell, the lead author of the study. "This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control."