Video: Why mosquitoes choose you

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Only female mosquitoes suck blood since they need it to produce their eggs. Knowing how a potentially disease-carrying female mosquito sniffs out a person, while ignoring other warm-blooded animals, is a key query.

Once that’s better known, much more effective repellents — or bait to lure mosquitoes away from humans — could be made, saving lives, said Christopher Potter, associate professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Sensory Biology.

If scientists can control their sense of smell, “we can really control what these mosquitoes are doing,” said Potter, who studies another human-specific mosquito, Anopheles, which carries malaria.

[Jessica] Zung has collected scent samples from about 40 different animals so far, including guinea pigs, rats, quail and more.

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Comparing some of those to the 16 human samples, something jumped out. Decanal, a simple, common compound, is particularly abundant in human skin, Zung said.

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[W]hen one component of our skin’s natural oils, sapienic acid, breaks down, decanal is left over. This acid (as indicated by its name) is only found in human beings. It’s what likely leads to the high levels of decanal that help the mosquitoes smell their way to us, but more studies need to be done.

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