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Some grape-scented compounds repel mosquitoes

Molecules drive bugs away as well as DEET does

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1:14pm, October 2, 2013

A screen coated with the compound MDA (methyl N,N-dimethyl anthranilate), bottom, keeps female mosquitoes at bay. The chemical smells like grapes and is deemed safe for humans.

A newly discovered batch of safe bug repellents works just as well as DEET, scientists report October 2 in Nature. As an added bonus, these new bug dopes smell faintly of grapes.

In addition to finding the new bug-repelling compounds, the scientists also uncovered the elusive cells and proteins that let mosquitoes detect and avoid DEET. This knowledge “gives you another whole set of tools” in the search for new insect repellents, says neuroscientist Mark Stopfer of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

DEET has been around for more than 60 years without scientists knowing how insects detect the molecule. “It’s remained a mystery for so long,” says entomologist Anandasankar Ray of the University of California, Riverside. Using a genetic trick, Ray and his colleagues engineered fruit flies — a proxy for mosquitoes — so that neurons would glow when active.

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