A new study suggests that some people really are “mosquito magnets” — and it may have something to do with the way they smell.
The researchers found that those most attractive to mosquitoes produced high amounts of certain chemicals associated with odor on their skin.
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“If you have a lot of this on your skin, you’re going to be a picnic bite,” said study author Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist at The Rockefeller University in New York.
Another author, Maria Elena De Obaldia, explained that to test the mosquito’s magnetism, the researchers designed an experiment that pitted people’s scents against each other.
A total of 64 volunteers from the university and nearby were asked to wear nylon stockings around their forearms to smell their skin.
The stockings were placed in separate traps at the ends of the long tubes, which then released dozens of mosquitoes.
“They basically flock to the most attractive subjects,” Ms De Obardia said. “It became very obvious right away.”
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The experiment used Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit diseases such as yellow fever, Zika and dengue.
“When the same people are tested over the years, studies show that these large differences persist,” said neurogeneticist Matt DeGennaro of Florida International University.
“Mosquito magnets still seem to be mosquito magnets,” he added.
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The study found a common factor: high levels of certain acids on the skin of mosquito magnets.
These “greasy molecules” are part of the skin’s natural moisturizing layer, and people produce different amounts, Ms. Vosshall said.
Healthy bacteria living on the skin eat these acids and create part of our skin’s odor, she said.
The findings, published in the journal Cell, could help find new ways to repel mosquitoes.
“There may be ways to patch skin bacteria and change the tantalizing smell in humans,” said Jeff Riffell, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study.
But he added that figuring out how to repel mosquitoes remains elusive because the critters have evolved into “lean, mean-spirited biting machines.”
Ms Vosshall added: “Mosquitoes are resilient. They have many backup plans to find us and bite us.”
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