Researchers at New York's Rockefeller University have found that people who are most attractive to mosquitoes produce a lot of certain chemicals on their skin that are related to smell. And the critters stay loyal to their favorites over time.
Do you find yourself constantly wondering whether you get more insect or mosquito bites than others? Do you find yourself in situations where you are constantly swatting off the pesky little buzzers even though no one else seems to be bothered by them?
Well, you might be a "mosquito magnet". And you may have your own host of loyal mosquito followers.
There’s a lot of folklore about who gets bitten more but many claims aren’t backed up with strong evidence. A new study, however, has found that some people really are “mosquito magnets” and it probably has to do with the way they smell.
Researchers at New York's Rockefeller University have found that people who are most attractive to mosquitoes produce a lot of certain chemicals on their skin that are related to smell. And bad news for mosquito magnets: The bloodsuckers stay loyal to their favorites over time.
The findings, published Tuesday in the journal Cell, state that "Mosquito magnets" had high levels of certain acids on their skin. These “greasy molecules” are part of the skin’s natural moisturizing layer, and people produce them in different amounts, Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York, said. The healthy bacteria that live on the skin eat up these acids and produce part of our skin’s odor profile, she said.
To put mosquito magnetism to the test, the researchers designed an experiment pitting people’s scents against each other.
The researchers asked 64 volunteers to wear nylon stockings around their forearms to pick up their skin smells. The stockings were put in separate traps at the end of a long tube, then dozens of mosquitos were released. The mosquitoes swarmed to the most attractive smells and in the end, the biggest mosquito magnet was around 100 times more attractive to the mosquitoes than the least attractive smell.
The researchers used batches of Aedes aegypti mosquitos for the experiment. These are the same mosquitoes that spread diseases like yellow fever, Zika and dengue. While similar results are expected from such tests with other mosquitoes, more research needs to be conducted in the area to understand specificities if any.
By testing the same people over multiple years, the study showed that these big differences stick around, said Matt DeGennaro, a neurogeneticist at Florida International University who was not involved with the research.
“Mosquito magnets seem to remain mosquito magnets,” DeGennaro said.
While the chemicals that attract mosquitoes cannot be safely scrubbed off the skin, the new findings can lead to innovation in mosquito repulsion.
This is not the first time that mosquito bites and their propensity to bite certain individuals has been under the lens. Reserachers have previously found different varieties of mosquitoes may have different preferences in terms of blood type. According to a paper titled Host‐seeking behavior and fecundity of the female Aedes aegypti to human blood types, the Aedes albopictus mosquito favors O blood type while the Anopheles gambiae favors type AB.
The current study, however, proved this point: Researchers also did the experiment with mosquitoes whose genes were edited to damage their sense of smell. The bugs still flocked to the same mosquito magnets.
“Mosquitoes are resilient,” Vosshall said. “They have many backup plans to be able to find us and bite us.”
(With inputs from AP)