Stinky feet could pave the way for better ways to stop mosquitoes

May 27, 2011 By Katharine Gammon
Stinky feet could pave the way for better ways to stop mosquitoes

With Memorial Day weekend approaching and temperatures across the nation steadily increase to summertime highs, thoughts turn to picnics, ballgames -- and bug bites. Now, a new way of stopping mosquitoes could come from a precise method to interfere with their ability to hone in on people's blood.

Before a mosquito comes in for a "fly-through" meal, it first has to feed on a sugary substance, usually from a flower. Then it uses carbon dioxide from a potential target's breath to locate a blood-filled host from up to 30 feet away. But as the hungry insect nears, malaria-bearing veer away from the face and move towards the feet, where they prefer to feed. Researchers have long believed that messing with the mosquitoes' sense of smell could hold the key to stopping their bloodlust.

Remco Suer started by experimenting on the African , . He knew that prior research had found that human foot bacteria produce about ten separate odors, some more attractive to mosquitoes than others. Suer, who did the study as part of his doctorate in at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, showed that these foot odors are detected by that control smell, which are present underneath hair-like structures on the mouthparts of the malaria mosquito.

Suer tested their in the labratory by pumping additional CO2 into a container to simulate , then added a high concentration of five different foot odors and found that the mosquitoes were unable to react to the CO2 for several seconds. The sole-ful odors actually stopped mosquitoes from sensing CO2 from breathing -- which could be a reason why malarial mosquitoes divert when honing in on a person and move instead to the feet at close ranges.

But Suer pointed out that this doesn't mean people with especially funky feet are more likely to get nibbled on.

"It is not the amount of odors produced, but which particular odors and ratio between them that makes a difference. Finding these odors and their respective ratio's brings us one step closer to manipulating the mosquito's behavior."

It is this short-range orientation shift that may be used against the mosquito's sensitive nose.

Suer thinks that better traps could be built luring mosquitoes into places that smell like feet -- and away from transmitting disease to human targets -- and started In2Care, a company he hopes will take the research and transform it into a low-tech product to help people in places where malaria is a danger.

Of course, not all mosquitoes do the same thing, making it difficult to use a small array of odors to interfere with all species, said Daniel Kline, an entomologist with the Agricultural Research Service in Gainesville, Fla.

Kline, who called the new work exciting, said that where he lives there are 71 different species of mosquitoes -- each with its own habits. Some will choose the face or neck to bite, while others will attack cows over humans.

"One size definitely doesn't fit all," Kline said.

Kline's research has taken him to do similar experiments with dirty socks -- including a pair he wore for 12 hours per day, for three days in a row.

"We actually got the female mosquitoes to respond to the socks," he said.

Using the olfactory prowess of the malaria-bearing mosquito against it is a useful trick.

Maybe gym-shoe odors could possibly do the trick.

Explore further: New insecticide created for mosquitoes

Related Stories

New insecticide created for mosquitoes

July 18, 2007

French scientists have developed an effective insecticide-repellent compound that can be used against mosquitoes resistant to current chemicals.

Malaria mosquitoes guided by bacteria

December 8, 2010

The composition of our skin bacteria determines whether we are attractive to malaria mosquito. This insight should make it possible to develop an effective odor trap for mosquitoes.

Malaria mosquitoes accurately find their way to smelly feet

May 9, 2011

Malaria mosquitoes utilise CO2 from exhaled air to localize humans from afar. In the vicinity of their preferred host they alter their course towards the human feet. Researcher Remco Suer discovered how female malaria mosquitoes ...

Recommended for you

Research advances on transplant ward pathogen

August 28, 2015

The fungus Cryptococcus causes meningitis, a brain disease that kills about 1 million people each year—mainly those with impaired immune systems due to AIDS, cancer treatment or an organ transplant. It's difficult to treat ...

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Silverhill
1 / 5 (3) May 27, 2011
hone: to sharpen, as a blade; skills can also be (figuratively) honed

home in: to direct onto a point or target

Please use "dictionary-check" as well as spell-check.
Sonhouse
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
hone: to sharpen, as a blade; skills can also be (figuratively) honed

home in: to direct onto a point or target

I prefer the tracking laser mosquito killer myself. I can imagine a couple of those in a bedroom, tracking the mosquito's and the powerful pulse frying the bastards. Probably would get overwhelmed in Alaska or the Tundra country of Canada though.

Please use "dictionary-check" as well as spell-check.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.