Targeting single set of nerve cells may block mosquitoes

The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, senses both carbon dioxide from the breath and odors from the skin of humans with the same set of nerve cells. The finding could lead to more simplified and safer repellents of the insect.

Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons

Mosquitoes use the same set of nerve cells to detect carbon dioxide from our breath and odors from our skin, a new study finds.

Scientists already knew that mosquitoes have olfactory nerve cells called cpA neurons that are sensitive to CO2. But when those nerve cells are blocked with chemicals, the insects are also less attracted to human foot odor, researchers report December 5 in Cell

The team identified two safe, inexpensive natural compounds that could alter the detection abilities of the CO2– and odor-sensing nerve cells. The fruity, rum- or caramel-smelling ethyl pyruvate blocked the insects’ neurons from detecting human foot odor, making the mosquitoes less attracted to the scent. The mint-scented cyclopentanone stimulated the insects’ CO2 detectors, luring the mosquitoes to a trap.

The findings are similar to previous results identifying natural mosquito repellents and could lead to more simplified systems to control the insects.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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