Our powerful scent attracts at least two species of mosquitoes, according to a paper accepted for publication in the journal Trends in Parasitology. Understanding what it is about human odor that attracts these bugs could help prevent the spread of diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.
Lead author Renate Smallegange explained to Discovery News that "the microorganisms on our skin use the materials present on our skin and in our sweat for their own metabolism. The microorganisms convert non-volatile compounds into volatile compounds."
Smallegange, a Wageningen University entomologist, and colleagues Niels Verhulst and Willem Takken, analyzed data on the chemical structure of human sweat. They conclude that "sweat-associated human volatiles are probably the primary determinant factor in the host preference of anthropophilic mosquitoes." These insects can carry life-threatening diseases, such as dengue, yellow fever and malaria.
So far, the "recipe" for synthetic human sweat appears to contain a complex blend of carbon dioxide, ammonia, lactic acid, and seven other carboxylic acids. The latter "have a sweaty smell," Smallegange said. Mosquitoes are very attracted to this odorous concoction when scientists whip it up in the lab.
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