Malaria cells release scents to attract mosquitoes

Scientists from Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered that Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria, releases odors that are attractive to mosquitoes.

The parasite achieves this by releasing chemical compounds, commonly known as terpenes, that lure the mosquitoes. The smell may be the reason that the mosquitoes are more likely to bite animals or humans that are already infected with the malaria parasite.

"We hope these kinds of parasite-produced compounds are the sort of thing that you might be able to find in the breath or sweat of children with malaria," Audrey Odom, senior author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics and molecular microbiology at Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis, said. "We have studies ongoing to see if we can detect these compounds in children with malaria, because obviously a breathalyzer test would be a lot nicer than the blood-based tests that are currently used."

Researchers hope that this information will help others discover novel diagnostic tests to detect malaria.

"Understanding the molecular basis of mosquito attraction and host choice is important for figuring out how you might prevent people from getting bitten in the first place,” Odom said.

Further details can be found in mBio, an open-access, online journal associated with the American Society for Microbiology.

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Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

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