Genes Make Some People More Attractive to Mosquitoes
Certain body odors appear to entice the pesky bloodsuckers—and those smells may be hereditary
One thing science can agree on is that body odor seems to play a significant role. “The mosquito’s sense of smell is the primary method used to select which human to feed on,” says James Logan of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “There is an enormous amount of data to support the fact that how attractive you are to mosquitoes is determined by body odor.” Now, by studying human twins, Logan and colleagues have found that the specific body odors that affect mosquitoes appear to have a genetic basis.
His team conducted experiments with sets of twin sisters who volunteered to be mosquito bait for the betterment of science—18 pairs of identical twins and 19 pairs of non-identical twins. Non-identical, or fraternal, twins share far fewer genes than identical twin pairs. To test their mosquito-attracting mojo, the twins each placed a hand into one branch of a Y-shaped tube. Then dengue mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) were released into the third branch, where they could sense the human odors and fly down to bite whichever twin they found most attractive.
While the identical twins proved equally attractive to mosquitoes, some of the non-identical twins were far less likely to be bitten than their siblings. This matches previous work showing that identical twins are more likely to have the same body odor than fraternal twins, Logan says. According to their tests, the measured level of heritability for this trait—the amount of total variability in body odor that can be attributed to genetics—was quite high. The results suggest that genes may play as big a role in determining whether our smell attracts mosquitoes as they do in regulating our height or IQ. Other possible factors to account for mosquito attractiveness, including diet and cleanliness, were largely controlled for during the study.
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