Scientists have just discovered how mosquitoes can “smell” and detect humans so well, to bite them. In a study published in the scientific journal Cell, they explain that these insects have a more complex olfactory system than some other animals. They are thus able to detect body heat and have receptors in their antennae. Then it is the brain that will process the accumulated information, in a certain way.
“We found a real difference in how mosquitoes encode the smells they encounter, compared to what we knew about other animals,” explained the Guardian Meg Younger, assistant professor of biology at Boston University and researcher of the study.
The scientists found that “different receptors respond to different odors in the same neuron” of the insect. Thus, mosquitoes can continue to smell odors even when some receptors are lost. Mosquitoes could still smell humans even after modifying their genome, researchers at Rockefeller University in New York say.
Better protection against disease
These discoveries make it possible to better understand these insects but can also advance research on protection against bites. In addition to itching and irritation, some specimens can transmit serious illnesses such as dengue fever or malaria, Zika or Chikungunya.
It is, according to Dr Marta Andres Miguel, of University College London, a “remarkable discovery, not only from a biological point of view, but also in the fight against disease”. New traps or repellents could soon be developed.