Mosquitoes have a taste for human blood because our blood is “salty and sweet,” according to newly published research.
The study, published in the journal Neuron, finds that female mosquitoes have two different modes of feeding, including a nectar that recognizes sugar and one that pierces the skin and feeds on blood like a syringe.
Study co-author Leslie Vosshall and the other researchers were able to get the mosquitoes into “blood-feeding mode” by offering them four compounds: glucose, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate (found in blood and baking soda) and adenosine triphosphate or ATP. The ATP has no taste, but Vosshall noted that it could be “exciting” for mosquitoes.
The scientists used an imaging device called a BiteOscope to observe the mosquito’s preferences for different meals. New research shows how the insects experience the taste of blood. (Photo credit: Prakash Lab)
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“ATP is that special mysterious stuff that people don’t like. But it has to be incredibly exciting and rewarding for the mosquito, “Vosshall said in a statement.
The researchers were able to slightly modify the insects and give them a fluorescent glow to see when a particular nerve cell was activated and to see how the cells responded and glowed to the different meals.
“There is nothing like it in the human experience,” added Vosshall.
The researchers hope that by understanding why mosquitoes feed on human blood, a drug could be created that could prevent the voracious insects from feeding on us, Vosshall added, noting that something similar to the flea and tick medication for a dog.
“If mosquitoes couldn’t detect the taste of blood, they couldn’t theoretically transmit disease,” Veronica Jové, an HHMI Gilliam Fellow at Rockefeller University and lead author of the study, said in the statement.
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The blood-sucking insects that spread diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever are responsible for at least 500,000 deaths each year. Only female mosquitoes feed on blood and use it as food for the development of their eggs.
“This is definitely a technical tour de force,” said neuroscientist Chris Potter of Johns Hopkins University Medical School in the statement, adding that it is one “that we could use against the mosquito.”
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