Foot odor to the rescue? Malaria may have a new foe
What do mosquitoes like more than clean, human skin? Stinky socks. Scientists think the musky odor of human feet can be used to attract and kill mosquitoes that carry deadly malaria. Last week, the Gates Foundation announced that it will help fund one such pungent project in Tanzania.
If they can be cheaply mass-produced, the traps could provide the first practical way of controlling malaria infections outdoors. The increased use of bed nets and indoor spraying has already helped bring down transmissions inside homes.
Dutch scientist Dr. Bart Knols first discovered mosquitoes were attracted to foot odor by standing in a dark room naked and examining where he was bitten, said Dr. Fredros Okumu, the head of the research project at Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute. But over the following 15 years, researchers struggled to put the knowledge to use.
Then Okumu discovered that the stinky smell—which he replicates using a careful blend of eight chemicals—attracts mosquitoes to a trap where they can be poisoned. The odor of human feet attracted four times as many mosquitoes as a human volunteer, and the poison can kill up to 95% of mosquitoes, he said.
The current traps are expensive prototypes, but Okumu hopes to produce affordable traps that can be sold for between $4 and $27 each. He said they hoped to develop the devices so they would work at the ratio of 20 traps for every 1,000 people.