Why mosquitoes are more attracted to some people than others | CNN

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore space with news about fascinating discoveries, scientific advances, and more. CNN — If you’ve always suspected you could be a mosquito magnet, scientists now have the proof for you. New research shows that mosquitoes are more attracted to certain people than to others. A team of researchers led by Leslie Vosshall, a professor at Rockefeller University and director of the Neurogenetics and Behavior Lab, tried to determine why certain people seem to attract more mosquitoes than others. The study results were published in the journal Cell on October 18. For three years, the researchers asked a group of 64 volunteers to wear nylon stockings on their arms for six hours a day over multiple days. Maria Elena De Obaldia, the first author of the study and a former postdoctoral researcher at Rockefeller University, built a “two-choice olfactory meter analysis”, an acrylic glass chamber in which researchers put two stockings. The team then released a yellow fever mosquito scientifically called Aedes aegypti into the room and observed which stockings attract more insects. This test allowed the researchers to distinguish study participants into “mosquito magnets”, which attract a lot of mosquitoes to their stockings, and “low attractors,” which do not attract insects. Scientists scrutinized the skin of mosquito magnets and found 50 molecular compounds in these participants, higher than the others. Vosshall, who is also the chief scientific officer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, told CNN: “We had no preconceived notions of what we were going to find. But one difference stood out in particular. Mosquito magnets have a much higher skin There was a ratio of carboxylic acids. Carboxylic acids are oily substances found in sebum that create a barrier and help keep skin moist. Carboxylic acids are large molecules, Vosshall explains. “It smells by itself.” However, beneficial bacteria on the skin “chew these acids that produce the characteristic human odor,” according to Vosshall, which may be attracting mosquitoes. One participant identified only as subject 33 “The subjects’ stockings were 100 times more attractive to mosquitoes than the least attractive participants, and human attractiveness levels remained fairly constant over time for participants monitored over three years,” Vosshall said. For example, subject 33 “didn’t take a day off to be the most attractive human being”, which could be “bad news about mosquito magnets.” The search for humans for food is urgent, as it prefers to use human blood for fuel, and these miniature predators use a variety of mechanisms to identify and select humans for bite, Vosshall said. It’s just one piece of the puzzle explaining how annoying insects select their targets.The body temperature and carbon dioxide we release when we breathe also attract mosquitoes to humans.Scientists still believe that carboxylic acids attract mosquitoes so strongly. “I don’t know why it seems to do it,” Vosshall said, “but the next step may be to investigate the carboxylic acid-reducing effects on the skin.” You cannot completely remove a natural moisturizer from your skin. It’s not going to be good for your skin health,” he said. But Vosshall says dermatological products can minimize carboxylic acid levels and reduce mosquito bites. “Every time this mosquito bites people, they put people at risk to public health,” she said. “Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are carriers of dengue, yellow fever and Zika viruses. People with magnets will be much more likely to get the virus.” Matthew DeGennaro, an associate professor at Florida International University who specializes in mosquito neurogenetics, said the findings could help answer the long-standing question of which specific factors make mosquitoes love some humans more than others. I told CNN that it helps. He did not participate in the study. “This study clearly shows that these acids are important,” he said. “Now it’s interesting how mosquitoes perceive this carboxylic acid. Because these specific chemicals are so heavy that you can’t smell them from afar. “These chemicals are altered by the skin microbiome and can cause certain kinds of odor pillars. Or other factors in the environment can break down these chemicals slightly, making them easier for mosquitoes to detect.” The results are also “a really good example of how insects can smell,” DeGennaro added. “These insects have evolved to hunt us.” For DeGennaro, the power by which certain human attractiveness is maintained is one of the most interesting aspects of the study. “I didn’t know that the preference for mosquitoes in certain people was very stable,” he said. “It could suggest that the skin microbiome is important, but they didn’t address it.” More research needs to explore the microbiome that lives on human skin to understand why mosquitoes are attracted to certain compounds rather than others, he said. And it could lead to better products that reduce mosquito bites and the spread of disease. “If we understand why mosquitoes are looking for hosts, I think we can design new repellents that block mosquitoes from detecting these chemicals,” said DeGennaro. “And this could be used to improve current repellents.”

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