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.