A team of researchers at The Rockefeller University in New York City have just figured out what attracts mosquitoes to humans. The breakthrough research could potentially be the key factor in paving the way for viable drugs to mask the much alluring flavour of human flesh and blood to these formidable disease carriers.
The study, which was published Monday in the journal Neuron, said scientists have sorted out the compounds in human blood that attracts mosquitoes. Using genetically-modified female mosquitoes, the study focused on determining which neurons fire when these females get a taste of blood.
Being that only females feed on blood to help nurture and develop their eggs, mosquitoes primarily survive on nectar for food just like other insect species. However, female mosquitoes are now considered the deadliest animal on earth to human beings. Human populations around the world have seen the death of more than half a million people each year due to mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, encephalitis and yellow fever.
The team tricked the mosquitoes into switching from nectar feeding mode to blood feeding mode by introducing a compound mix containing glucose, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate and adenosine triphosphate to duplicate the flavour of human blood.
They were able to tell when the mosquitoes were in blood-feeding mode or nectar-feeding mode through the syringe-like stingers it uses to drink. A fluorescent tag was placed onto the female insects which in turn glows when a nerve cell would be activated. Researchers would then be able to track which nerve cell lights up whenever they were offered different meals. Only one subset of neurons are activated by real blood and synthetic blood.
One of the lead researchers, Veronica Jove said:
"If mosquitoes weren't able to detect the taste of blood, in theory they couldn't transmit disease."
According to Leslie Vosshall, head of the laboratory at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at The Rockefeller University, said the results of the study could earmark the creation of oral mosquito repellents that could interfere with the insect's taste for blood.