Twins experiment reveals genetic link with mosquito bites

April 22, 2015
Identical twins place their hands in a Y-shaped tube filled with mosquitoes to see how attractive they smell. Credit: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

The likelihood of being bitten by mosquitoes could be down to our genes, according to a study carried out on twins.

Research from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found, for the first time, an underlying genetic component to how attractive we are to and this is likely to be caused by genetic control of our .

Although this was a pilot study, it provides exciting information which may allow us to understand more about how our intimate relationship with mosquitoes has evolved. Ultimately the finding could result in the development of better ways to control mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit.

The findings are published in PLOS ONE and build on previous research where it was shown that attractiveness to insects is based on differences in body odour. People who are less attractive to mosquitoes produce natural repellents. It seems that this trait is genetically controlled.

A series of trials using 18 identical and 19 non-identical female showed that identical twin pairs were more similar in attractiveness to mosquitoes than non-identical twin pairs. The extent to which play a part - the level of heritability - in the trait for being attractive or not to mosquitoes was found to be at a similar level (0.83) as that associated with height (0.8) and IQ (0.5-0.8).

Funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, the pilot study was carried out in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, Rothamsted Research and the University of Florida. TwinsUK assisted with recruitment of the sets of twins.

In the experiment, Aedes aegypti, dengue mosquitoes, were released into a Y-shaped tube which divides into two sections. They were allowed to fly down either side towards the odour from the study participants' hands to see which twin they were most attracted to.

Female mosquitoes display preferences for the smell of certain people when they choose who to bite to feed on the blood which they require to reproduce. For example, pregnant women are more attractive to Anopheles gambiae (the principal malaria vector in Africa) than their non-pregnant counterparts, and people with a greater body mass also appear to be more to mosquitoes and midges. Diet is often suggested as an explanation, with anecdotes about eating garlic or drinking beer to keep mosquitoes away. However, there is no clear and consistent dietary explanation.

Senior author Dr James Logan, Senior Lecturer in Medical Entomology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "By investigating the genetic mechanism behind attractiveness to biting insects such as mosquitoes we can move closer to using this knowledge for better ways of keeping us safe from bites and the diseases insects can spread through bites. If we understand the genetic basis for variation between individuals it could be possible to develop bespoke ways to control mosquitoes better, and develop new ways to repel them. In the future we may even be able to take a pill which will enhance the production of natural repellents by the body and ultimately replace skin lotions."

Explore further: Mosquitoes exposed to DEET once are less repelled by it a few hours later

More information: Fernández-Grandon GM, Gezan SA, Armour JAL, Pickett JA, Logan JG (2015) Heritability of Attractiveness to Mosquitoes. PLoS ONE 10(4):e0122716. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122716

Related Stories

Malaria transmission linked to mosquitoes' sexual biology

February 26, 2015

Sexual biology may be the key to uncovering why Anopheles mosquitoes are unique in their ability to transmit malaria to humans, according to researchers at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and University of Perugia, ...

Recommended for you

DNA study offers some hints of cat domestication history

September 23, 2016

(Phys.org)—A trio of researchers has presented their preliminary findings regarding a mitochondrial DNA study they have undertaken as part of an effort to learn more about the domestication history of the modern house cat. ...

0 comments

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.