Scientists discover means of confusing malaria mosquitoes

In a recent breakthrough in malaria research, scientists have identified odor molecules that can baffle mosquitoes searching for human blood.

The chemicals are capable of blocking a mosquito’s carbon dioxide sensors. When functioning properly, these sensors normally alert mosquitoes to a human’s exhaled breath, AFP reports.

The research, conducted by a team from the University of California at Riverside, has the potential to lead to low-cost chemicals that could deter or confuse mosquitoes, which could be invaluable to poorer tropical countries where malaria is endemic.

The molecules could provide an alternative to the expensive skin repellent DEET, which needs multiple reapplications and to which mosquitoes may eventually become resistant.

"These chemicals offer powerful advantages as potential tools for reducing mosquito-human contact and can lead to the development of new generations of insect repellents and lures," Anandasankar Ray, an assistant professor of entomology at the UC Riverside and the leader of the study, said, according to AFP.

Currently, effective traps for mosquitoes exist, such as dry ice, gas cylinders of carbon dioxide or propane combustion, but they are generally too cumbersome and too expensive to be used for mosquito control in the developing world.

The team successfully tested their findings on a small scale in Kenya, where they released plumes of carbon dioxide to lure mosquitoes, then released the odor molecules to confuse them.

Mark Stopfer, a specialist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health was guardedly optimistic about the results. While saying the results opened up a potentially new line of defense, he warned that mosquitoes were also attracted to other odors present in human sweat and skin. He also said that the chemicals have yet to be tested for safety on humans, according to AFP.

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