Research May Lead to a Mosquito 'Invisibility Cloak'

Researchers identified chemical compounds that serve as a mosquito 'invisibility cloaks.'

New research shows some chemical compounds found on human skin can serve as ‘invisibility cloaks’ against mosquitoes.
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Whether a person has "sweet blood," exudes a certain odor or is wired differently genetically, the reason why mosquitoes target certain people remains somewhat of a scientific mystery. In an attempt to further examine this question, researchers have identified chemical compounds in humans that can make a person virtually invisible to the blood-sucking insects.

In findings presented at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting Monday, researcher Ulrich Bernier explained that just as some chemical compounds found on a person's skin can lure mosquitoes to feast on a person's flesh, others can essentially block the mosquitoes' sense of smell.

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"If a mosquito can't sense that dinner is ready, there will be no buzzing, no landing and no bite," Bernier, a researcher at the Department of Agriculture, said in a statement.

Harnessing those compounds could prove useful for blocking the dangerous diseases mosquitoes are also known to carry, such as malaria and rare kinds of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. Together, these diseases transmitted by mosquitoes kill approximately 1 million people worldwide annually.

Bernier's research could also be an important step towards finding solutions to help mosquito-plagued humans, pets and livestock, as many current repellents are sometimes ineffective or uncomfortable.

While a widely-used insect repellent, DEET, for example, is effective at preventing mosquito bites, Bernier said some people do not like how it feels or smells. Additionally, when people wear insect repellents, mosquitoes still sometimes land on the surface of their skin but do not bite, according to Bernier.

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Bernier explained how one chemical compound, known as 1-methylpiperazine, inhibited the mosquitoes' sense of smell and direction to the point where they could not even locate human skin.

"There are two levels of confusion going on there: One, it blocks their reception, and the second is, even if they take flight ... they still have a hard time figuring out where the skin surface is," Bernier said at a press conference Monday.

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