Mosquitoes sniff out victims for blood

July 3rd, 2012 - 2:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 3 (IANS) Mosquitoes have an uncanny ability to sniff out potential victims for blood, thanks to a large part of their tiny brains being devoted to the sense of smell.

Zainulabeuddin Syed, mosquito biologist with the University of Notre Dame’s Eck Institute for Global Health, who specialises in insect olfaction, says only female mosquitoes feed on blood meals which they find through smell and use the blood to produce eggs.

For example, Culex mosquitoes, which transmit West Nile and other life-threatening illnesses, are able to detect even minute concentrations of nonanal, a chemical substance given off by humans. They do so through receptor neurons on their antennae, according to a Notre Dame statement.

Birds are the main hosts of mosquitoes and they also give off nonanal. Birds are the main source of the West Nile virus and when mosquitoes move on to feast on humans and other species, they transmit the virus to them.

An understanding of the olfactory behaviour of mosquitoes that leads them to feed on humans can play an important role in developing more effective methods of mosquito and disease control.

The Notre Dame researcher’s lab is studying what smells plants that mosquitoes are attracted to give off.

Again, a deeper understanding of the role of the chemicals produced by plants and how mosquitoes select plants to obtain their energy sources can lead to better control and elimination strategies.

In Africa alone, malaria takes a human life, most frequently a child’s, every 30 seconds. A better understanding of the role smell plays in mosquito behaviour can offer important clues that may lead to new control strategies.

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