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ScienceShot: Stinky Feet Smell Sweet to Malaria-Infected Mosquitoes

15 May 2013 5:00 pm
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James Gathany/CDC

To the malaria-carrying mosquito Anopheles gambiae (pictured), the stench of human feet is like the smell of a fresh-baked pie. A team of entomologists set out to see if the bugs were even more drawn to the odor when infected with the malaria parasite. Lead researcher and entomologist Renate Smallegange collected the smell using her own feet—with a nylon stocking that she wore for about 20 hours. She and her colleagues then exposed the stocking to caged mosquitoes, allowing them to land on it and poke it with their proboscises in a vain attempt to feed. It turned out that malaria-infected mosquitoes are about three times more likely to be attracted to the smell of human feet than their uninfected counterparts, the researchers report today in PLOS ONE. But the stink of human body odor comes from a soup of many chemicals, making it hard to tell just which odor the mosquitoes love. So the team plans to attach tiny electrodes to mosquito antennae, which they use to smell, and test them against individual body chemicals. They hope their findings will help scientists build better traps in the wild that will draw only infected mosquitoes.

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