Do you ever feel like mosquitoes are always biting you and seeming to aim at you? It could be because of your smell, a new study says.
Mosquitoes are one of the most dangerous creatures on Earth, contributing to the spread of deadly diseases such as malaria, which kill hundreds of thousands of people every year. There are even mosquitoes that ‘prefer to bite people’.
But for some people, mosquitoes seem to attack more often than others. There are numerous theories as to why this might happen, such as blood type, what type of clothes someone is wearing, or bacteria on the skin, but it has never been scientifically proven to be the cause.
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell However, October 18 describes how the production of an odor-bound chemical makes some people mosquito magnets, and it could be something they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives.
Researchers reached their conclusion in the three-year study by having eight participants wear nylon stockings over their arms for six hours a day to trap their skin odor. After the stockings were worn, they were placed at the ends of individual long tubes, and Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes — one of the most common carriers of deadly diseases — were released to see which tubes they would choose in a tournament-style round robin experiment. .
Towards the end, researchers made an alarming discovery: One of the participants, subject 33, was four times more attractive to mosquitoes than the runner-up participant and 100 times more attractive than the least attractive participant. Each time the participant’s nylon stocking was placed against another, the mosquitoes were always drawn to subject 33.
To see if that response was just an outlier, researchers got an additional 56 people to join the study, but mosquitoes stayed true to subject 33.
After the so-called tournament was over, researchers examined each participant’s chemical compounds and found that those who were mosquito magnets produced carboxylic acids, which bacteria on human skin use to produce unique body odors, at much higher levels than others.
“There is a very, very strong association between having high amounts of these fatty acids on your skin and being a mosquito magnet,” Leslie Vosshall, study author and neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York, said in a statement.
Vosshall added that this was not the aim of the study: The hope was that a mosquito would lose its attraction to humans or be unable to tell the difference between subjects.
“Still, that wasn’t what we saw. It was frustrating,” she said.
By testing the same people for several years, the study showed that these large differences persist, Matt DeGennaro, a neurogeneticist at Florida International University who was not involved in the study, told The Associated Press.
“Mosquito magnets seem to remain mosquito magnets,” DeGennaro said.
While the researchers were unsuccessful in their goal, their findings could pave the way for making mosquito repellents. The only way to alter a person’s scent, the researchers say, is to manipulate skin microbiome; and, if possible, rubbing the subject’s skin with the compounds of someone who isn’t as attractive to mosquitoes can help the person avoid being bitten.
Why Some People Are Mosquito Magnets
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