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How do mosquitoes detect their victims?


After several years of research, a scientific study has determined how mosquitoes manage to detect where are they their human victims. The study, published on May 4 in the journal ‘Nature’, is a step forward in knowledge about this parasite and could allow more effective repellents to be developed in the future. Of course, for the moment we will have to make do with other methods to drive them away, such as indoor plants or the latest products to repel mosquitoes.

The investigation

The work is based on previous research that had concluded that mosquitoes of the speciesAedes aegypti’, carrier of diseases such as Zika, prefer human scent to animal scent. The objective of this new collaborative research -experts from different universities have participated-, went one step further and set out to discover how mosquitoes distinguish human bodies to be able to attack them almost exclusively to them.

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To carry out the study, scientists genetically modified mosquitoesso that their brains lit up when they were active. Next, the team had to deliver “human-smelling air and animal-smelling air” so that the parasites could detect it while inside the wind tunnel where the various tests were performed.

Zung, one of the study’s authors, explained in a statement that for the human samples they asked the volunteers “to they will not bathe for a few daysthen undress and lie down in a Teflon bag”. The reason for the nudity is simple: the clothes also give off odors that could compromise the results.

How are we distinguished from animals?

The results of the research surprised the scientists themselves, because brain activity of mosquitoes to detect us is much simpler than expected. The brain of these parasites has 60 nerve centers -called glomeruli-, but only two of them are involved in the detection of human odor.

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Of the two nerve centers, the researchers explain, one responds to many odors, including human scent, alerting the mosquito that potential prey is nearby so it can approach it. The second nerve center, on the other hand, responds only to human scent and allows us to be distinguished from other animals in a simple way. From here, they decide which person to bite.

traces in the air

In 2019, Professor Manuel Peinado already pointed to the “chemical landscape of the air” that surrounds us as the key to understanding how female mosquitoes select their victims. “Mosquitoes depend on carbon dioxide to find their hosts. When we expel air from our lungs, the carbon dioxide does not immediately mix with the air. It temporarily stays in effluvia that mosquitoes follow like rats to the Pied Piper of Hamelin” , Peinado expressed then.

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