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Mosquitoes With Altered Gene Can't Sniff People Out
Date:5/29/2013

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have discovered that mutating a smell-related gene in mosquitoes hinders their ability to sniff out humans from other warm-blooded prey.

Researchers said the findings, published May 27 in the journal Nature, clearly show how important scent is to mosquito "hunting preferences." And they hope the results will pave the way to better weapons against the mosquitoes that transmit diseases including malaria and dengue fever.

It's well known that certain mosquitoes "specialize in humans," said Leslie Vosshall, a professor at Rockefeller University, in New York City, and senior researcher on the study.

Because they devote their time to moving from one person to the next, she said, they are the mosquitoes responsible for spreading diseases such as malaria -- which alone killed close to 700,000 people worldwide in 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Scientists have assumed that odor plays a prime role in how mosquitoes zero in on people. They are attracted by other factors -- like body heat and the carbon dioxide people exhale -- but other warm-blooded creatures also give off those cues.

"None of those factors would be as important as smell," Vosshall said.

And Vosshall's team found clear genetic proof of how important scent is. In experiments with one strain of disease-carrying mosquitoes, the researchers were able to "knock out" a gene involved in odor detection. The result? The bugs lost their ability to distinguish humans from guinea pigs.

It's not surprising that mosquitoes' odor receptors would be key in their preference for humans, said Michel Slotman, who studies disease-transmitting mosquitoes and was not involved with the study.

But the findings offer important details about the insects' scent-detecting systems, according to Slotman, an assistant profess
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