Are you a mosquito magnet? A new study suggests it could be your smell

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A new study shows that some people really are “mosquito magnets,” and it probably has something to do with how they smell.

Researchers have found that people who are most attractive to mosquitoes produce more of certain odor-related chemicals on their skin. And bad news for mosquito magnets: bloodsuckers remain loyal to their pets over time.

“If you have high levels of this substance on your skin, you’re going to be the one who gets bitten at the picnic,” said study author Leslie Voschal, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York.

There’s a lot of folklore about who gets bitten more, but many claims aren’t backed up by hard evidence, Vosschal said.

To test the magnetism of mosquitoes, the researchers designed an experiment that pitted human odors against each other, explained study author Maria Elena De Obaldia. Theirs The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Cell.

They asked 64 volunteers from the university and the surrounding area to wear nylon stockings on their forearms to capture the scent of their skin. The stockings were placed in separate traps at the end of a long tube, then dozens of mosquitoes were released.

“They basically rushed to the most attractive objects,” De Obaldia said. “It became very obvious right away.”

The scientists ran a round-robin tournament and came up with a stunning gap: the largest mosquito magnet was about 100 times more attractive to mosquitoes than the one that came in last place.

The experiment used the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads diseases such as yellow fever, Zika and dengue. Vosschal said she would expect similar results from other species, but more research is needed to confirm.

By testing the same people over several years, the study found that these large differences persisted, said Matt Degenaro, a neurogeneticist at Florida International University who was not involved in the study.

“Mosquito magnets seem to remain mosquito magnets,” Degenaro said.

Among the favorites, the researchers found a common factor: mosquito magnets had high levels of certain acids on their skin. These “greasy molecules” are part of the skin’s natural moisturizing layer, and people produce them in varying amounts, Vosschal said. Healthy bacteria living on the skin absorb these acids and create part of our skin’s odor profile, she said.

You can’t get rid of these acids without harming the health of your skin, said Vosschal, who is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is its principal investigator. The institute also supports the Department of Health and Science Associated Press.

But the research could help find new ways to repel mosquitoes, said Jeff Riffel, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study. There may be ways to tinker with skin bacteria and change irritating human odors, he said.

Still, figuring out ways to control mosquitoes isn’t easy, Riffel said, because the creatures have evolved into “skinny, mean biting machines.”

The study confirmed this: the researchers also conducted an experiment with mosquitoes whose genes were edited to impair their sense of smell. The bugs still flocked to the same mosquito magnets.

“Mosquitoes are resilient,” Vosschal said. “They have plenty of backup plans to find us and bite us.”

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