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Health in the future: no-bite mosquitoes

Researchers have discovered mosquitoes have a complex sense of smell that helps them hunt you down, in a new study published on August 31 on the online edition of the journal Public Library of Science Biology (PLoS).

The study's principal investigator Laurence Zwiebel, PhD, a professor of biological sciences and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, explained, "It's not at all surprising that the mosquito's olfactory system is more sophisticated than we thought," since "olfaction is absolutely essential to the mosquito."

"As a result, mosquitoes have developed an uncanny ability to detect odors. This is true of all species of mosquitoes, not just Anopheles [which spread malaria]. So it is highly likely that the mosquitoes that spread West Nile, dengue fever, yellow fever and encephalitis also have similar sets of odor sensors."

This discovery may lead to novel eco-friendly repellents and perhaps mosquitoes in the future that won't be able to sniff out human sweat and other odors to bite them and spread malaria and other diseases.

Zwiebel told Relaxnews on August 29, "one of the next steps is to use this new knowledge to identify and develop chemical approaches to disturb mosquito behavior and keep them from biting humans.  As part of a Grand Challenge in Global Health Initiative that, funded through the foundation for the NIH from grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, my laboratory, together with a set of international colleagues, is doing precisely that."

Additionally, "our GCGH project is currently developing novel lead compounds that we call BDOCs (behaviorally distruptive olfactory CPDS) that can both attract and repel mosquitoes.

"We expect to bring these tools online (5-10yr timeframe) as part of global efforts to eradicate malaria as well as reduce the spread of insect borne disease throughout the developing world. Furthermore, I expect these CPDS will also be used against nuisance insects that plague tourism and outdoor activities in the developed world," said Zwiebel.

In the meantime Zwiebel recommends preventing mosquito bites with "the regular use of antibacterial soap [as it] has been shown to reduce anopheline attraction as does the use of insect repellents, a reduction of outdoor activity at times that mosquitoes are most active [dawn and dusk] and in disease endemic areas the use of insecticide treated bednets."

Full study, "Distinct Olfactory Signaling Mechanisms in the Malaria Vector Mosquito Anopheles gambiae" to be available : http://www.plosbiology.org/home.action