Disease-carrying mosquitoes can be trained to stay away from even the sweetest skins by the flick of a finger, according to a recent study.
The research, published Jan. 25 in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology, is the first finding of its kind to reveal certain mosquito behaviors by testing between 2,700 and 3,000 of the pesky insects. Past research has shown mosquitoes can learn. This study explores how they learn to bite some humans more than others.
Researchers found that Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, also known as the yellow fever mosquitoes, identify humans by odors, and can associate those smells with past unpleasant interactions — such as swatting — for at least 24 hours.
"Defending yourself against mosquitoes is helpful, whether or not you manage to hit the mosquito," Chloé Lahondere, research assistant professor of biochemistry in Virginia Tech told USA TODAY.
This means swatting could be an effective type of repellent.
"Understanding these mechanisms of mosquito learning and preferences may provide new tools for mosquito control," Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor of biochemistry in Virginia Tech, said. "For example, we could target mosquitoes' ability to learn and either impair it or exploit it to our advantage."
The key was dopamine. Researchers found mosquitoes modified to lack dopamine receptors didn’t learn smells of hosts.
"Now that we have a better understanding of what the mosquitoes are capable of, we need to investigate how to apply this knowledge to refine our control strategies and fight more efficiently against the disease that these mosquitoes transmit," Lahondere said.
While this finding is promising, not all mosquitoes respond the same way, Jeffrey Riffell, a University of Washington neuroecologist involved in the study said. He said his team could not teach mosquitoes that carry West Nile to avoid humans.
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