Some people really are “mosquito magnets” – and it probably has to do with their smell, according to a new study.
Researchers have found that those who attract mosquitoes the most produce a lot of certain chemicals on their skin that are linked to smell.
And there’s bad news for all those mosquito magnets: bloodsuckers stick to their favorites over time.
“If you have high levels of this stuff on your skin, you’ll be the one at the picnic who gets all the bites,” said study author Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University. At New York.
To put mosquito magnetism to the test, the researchers designed an experiment that pitted people’s smells against each other, said author Maria Elena De Obaldia.
A total of 64 volunteers from the university and surrounding areas were asked to wear nylon stockings around their forearms to pick up scents from their skin.
The stockings were placed in separate traps at the end of a long tube, and then dozens of mosquitoes were released.
“They would basically swarm to the most appealing topics,” Ms. De Obaldia said. “It became very obvious right away.”
The larger mosquito magnet was about 100 times more attractive to mosquitoes than the last one.
Mosquitoes have “back-up plans”
The experiment used the Aedes aegypti mosquito which spreads diseases like yellow fever, Zika and dengue fever.
Matt DeGennaro, a neurogeneticist at Florida International University, said: “By testing the same people over several years, the study showed that these large differences persisted.
“Mosquito magnets seem to remain mosquito magnets,” he added.
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The study found a common factor: the mosquito magnets had high levels of certain acids on their skin.
These “fat molecules” are part of the skin’s natural moisturizing layer and people produce them in different amounts, Ms Vosshall said.
Healthy bacteria that live on the skin eat these acids and produce part of our skin’s odor profile, she said.
The findings were published in the journal Cell and could help find new methods to repel mosquitoes.
Jeff Riffell, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study, said: “There may be ways to tinker with bacteria in the skin and change the tantalizing smells of humans.”
But he added that finding ways to fight the mosquitoes remained elusive as the creatures evolved into “lean, nasty biting machines”.
Ms Vosshall added: “Mosquitoes are resilient. They have many back-up plans to find and bite us.”
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