Researchers at Rockefeller University’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute have discovered for the first time that female mosquitoes have individual neurons that sense the characteristic taste of human blood.
The sense of taste is specially designed to detect a combination of at least four different substances in blood sugar, sodium chloride (table salt), sodium bicarbonate and adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
The researchers found that female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have several neurons in the syringe-like stylet that pierces the skin to differentiate blood from nectar (Neuron, October 2020). Blood-feeding mosquitoes survive by feeding on nectar for metabolic energy, but require a blood meal to develop eggs. They found that female mosquitoes have two feeding modes that use different mouth parts and recognize different flavors.
To find out what is special about the combination of these four ingredients, the researchers first tested how mosquito pens reacted to the individual components. Surprisingly, glucose found in both nectar and blood did not activate neurons. The other three ingredients – sodium chloride (table salt), sodium bicarbonate and ATP – which are only found in the blood and not in the nectar, activate a certain group of neurons. A prominent cluster of neurons was only activated when the entire blood prescription was delivered together rather than individually. The results indicate how specifically the female mosquito is adapted to find blood.
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