Researchers may smell new weapon against malaria
Anyone who has suffered the misfortune of smelling rotting eggs, week-old gym socks or decaying road kill knows the power of a really bad smell. New findings about mosquitoes’ olfactory sense could help in the fight against malaria by providing a better understanding of smells that are a turnoff to mosquitoes.
In a new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, Johns Hopkins University researchers describe how they used a robust genetic technique to better understand how the Anopheles gambiae mosquito processes odor. The female of that species is responsible for transmitting malaria, which led to almost 440,000 deaths worldwide in 2015.
According to the research, a specialized area of the mosquito brain mixes taste with smell to create unique and appealing flavors. The finding suggests that mosquitoes aren’t just attracted to human smell, but the flavor as well.
“Our goal is to let the mosquitoes tell us what smells they find repulsive and use those to keep them from biting us,” said Christopher Potter, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The new findings suggest that a combination of repellants could be more powerful in keeping mosquitoes away from human skin.
It also provides additional clues for scientists to develop a substance “that is safe and pleasant-smelling for us but strongly repellant to mosquitoes at very low concentrations,” according to Potter.
Researchers are looking into whether bug repellents that make humans taste bad to mosquitoes can help fight malaria.