New Study Reveals Why Mosquitoes ‘Prefer’ Some People’s Smells

by Craig Garrett
Aedes aegypti mosquito (mosquito da dengue) - stock photo

Some people seem to be more attractive to mosquitoes than others, and a new study suggests that it may have to do with body odor. The study author Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York, weighed in. “If you have high levels of this stuff on your skin, you’re going to be the one at the picnic getting all the bites,” Vosshall told the New York Post.

The researchers published their findings on Tuesday in the journal Cell. It explained an experiment pitting people’s scents against each other to study mosquito magnetism. The researchers asked 64 volunteers from the university and nearby areas to wear nylon stockings around their forearms. This is how they collected the subjects’ skin smells. The stockings were placed in separate traps at the end of a long tube. Next, dozens of mosquitoes flew into each trap. “They would basically swarm to the most attractive subjects,” a researcher explained. “It became very obvious right away.”

After doing a round-robin tournament, scientists discovered a big difference in mosquitoes’ attraction to different people. The most attractive person was around 100 times more appealing to the insect than the least popular contestant. Vosshall and her team used the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It spreads diseases like yellow fever, Zika, and dengue for their experiment. Vosshall claims that she would expect to see similar results from other types of mosquitoes. However, more research is needed in order to confirm this theory.

Why are some individuals mosquito magnets?

After examining the same individuals over a period of years, the study discovered that these large disparities remain consistent. This is according to Matt DeGennaro, a neurogeneticist from Florida International University. “Mosquito magnets seem to remain mosquito magnets,” DeGennaro explained.

The researchers discovered that the people who were the most attractive to mosquitoes had high levels of certain acids on their skin. These “greasy molecules” are part of the skin’s natural moisturizing layer, and people produce them in different amounts, Vosshall said. The healthy bacteria that live on the skin eat up these acids and produce part of our skin’s odor profile, she said.

According to Vosshall, you cannot get rid of these acids without also damaging your skin health. The institute also supports The Associated Press’s Health and Science Department. Riffell is a neurobiologist at the University of Washington. Riffell said that this research could help find new methods to repel mosquitoes. He theorized that there may be ways to tinker with skin bacteria and change humans’ tantalizing smells.

Though still trying to find ways to prevent mosquito bites, Riffell said they’re difficult to fight because the creatures have evolved over time into “lean, mean-biting machines.” Researchers also conducted the experiment with mosquitoes whose genes were edited to damage their sense of smell. Even the genetically modified mosquitoes still flocked to the same mosquito magnets. “Mosquitoes are resilient,” Vosshall explained. “They have many backup plans to be able to find us and bite us.”