Re­searchers may smell new weapon against malaria

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

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.

JIM GATHANY-CDC

Re­searchers are look­ing into whether bug re­pel­lents that make hu­mans taste bad to mos­qui­toes can help fight malaria.

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