Researchers have just recently discovered why human blood is so attractive to mosquitoes. Their discovery may be the first step in developing a pharmaceutical solution that will change how our blood tastes, making us unattractive to these disease-transmitting insects.
A Revolutionary Breakthrough
A US research team has recently discovered the specific compounds that make human blood attractive to mosquitoes. This breakthrough may be the way to making a new drug capable of masking the delicious flavor of our blood.
Mosquitoes are not particularly drawn to a straightforward flavor, such as salty or sweet. In contrast, they are attracted to the complex combination produced by several components or ingredients.
The research team is from New York City’s Rockefeller University. They conducted the study using genetically modified mosquito females to determine which of their neurons fire up whenever they drink our blood.
The researchers used females because only females need blood. They use it as sustenance for egg development. Both male and female mosquitoes primarily consume plant nectar, similar to thousands of different other insects.
The Greatest Animal Killer
Mosquitoes are considered the most significant cause of death in humans. Because of the diseases that they transmit, such as yellow fever, dengue, and malaria, estimates have put the human death toll to half a million annually due to mosquitoes.
One estimate says that mosquitoes may have been the cause of death of half of all the humans who ever lived.
The research team induced the female mosquitoes to commence blood-feeding mode by giving them a mixture of four different compounds developed to simulate human blood flavor.
These compounds are sodium chloride, glucose (blood sugar), ATP or adenosine triphosphate, and sodium bicarbonate. ATP is the product of particular biochemical processes that give the cells their energy.
The researchers used fluorescent tagging to see which nerve cells in the insects glowed or activated. This allowed them to determine which of the nerves lit up as the insects were given different mixtures.
The insects were found to be attracted to the synthetic “blood” mixture. However, they ignored the solution containing only saline and sugar.
Glucose is found both in blood and nectar, and in the mosquitoes, it was not consistent in activating any particular neurons. The three other compounds, namely ATP, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium chloride, each caused specific neuronal clusters activation.
The researchers then found that only blood – both real and synthetic – activated an individual specific neuron cluster. It did not fire up when they were offered different compound ingredients.
According to Rockefeller University Howard Hughes Medical Institute laboratory head and study co-author Leslie Vosshall, their findings may lead to the development of oral repellants that can interfere with the mosquitoes’ taste for human blood. However, she also said that we may never really understand how our blood tastes from the insects’ perspective.
Vosshall says that it is like trying to understand the perception of flowers from honeybees’ eyes. They see the ultraviolet range of hues that we cannot see. Similarly, we cannot know what bats “see” when they use sonar. She says it is not part of our experience as humans.
Still, if we can use drugs to keep mosquitoes away, human blood and health may finally have a respite from the killing rampage brought about by these small but deadly insects.
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