New Repellent Could Be Devastating for Mosquitos

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

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In a small, narrow, temperature-controlled lab room at Vanderbilt University live some of the most deadly and dangerous animals in the world.

“These are Anopheles mosquitoes that still think that they’re in Central Africa. We won’t tell them any different,” says Laurence Zwiebel, professor of molecular biology and pharmacology.

Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes can be killers. In warmer climates, the bloodsuckers carry and spread diseases, including malaria, the second most deadly transmitted disease in Africa. The mosquitoes growing up in Zwiebel’s lab are disease-free. But, as Zwiebel points out, they still bite.

Anopheles gambiae often shows a strong preference for biting people. How do they do this? What makes them so predisposed to bite humans?”

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Zwiebel and his team want to find some answers. They know mosquitoes zero in on their next meal using their keen sense of smell. “A mosquito can smell you and me from a very long distance and can track its way to you based on odor plumes that we’re giving off,” explains vector biologist Jason Pitts.

The team has identified microscopic odor receptors on the mosquito’s antennae that look like tiny microscopic hairs. “We’ve identified large families of receptors in the mosquito,” says Pitts.

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