WASHINGTON — There always seems to be one person at every picnic, pool party or other outdoor activity who gets eaten alive by mosquitoes while their companions remain relatively untouched.
A new study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggests that this predisposition is genetic in nature.
Previous research shows that an individual’s attractiveness to insects is based on differences in their body odor. People who are less attractive to mosquitoes produce a natural repellent that keeps the bugs away.
Dr. James Logan, one of the authors of the new study, says it was constructed to see if the odors that attract or repel mosquitoes are genetics-based.
A series of trials were conducted using 18 identical and 19 non-identical sets of twins.
In the experiment, female mosquitoes (who feed on blood to obtain the proteins necessary for egg production) were released into a Y-shaped tube and were allowed to fly down either side, towards the odor from participants’ hands, to see which twin they were most attracted to.
Participants were asked to first remove all jewelry from their hands and were supervised as they washed their hands thoroughly with odor-free soap and a nailbrush. After washing their hands, volunteers were instructed not to touch anything and to allow their hands to air dry.
The results of the trials showed that identical twins showed a high correlation in attractiveness to mosquitoes, while non-identical twin pairs showed a significantly lower correlation. In other words, the study showed that identical twin pairs were more similar in attractiveness to mosquitoes than non-identical twin pairs.
According to Logan, the next stage in the research is to identify the genes involved in attractiveness to mosquitoes.
“That might allow us to determine how much at risk a certain population is in a developing country, and that would have implications for controlling diseases like malaria or dengue,” he says.
“The other thing that we might be able to do, we could possible develop a drug, a pill that you might take, when you go on holiday that would cause your body to produce natural repellents and would minimize the need to actually put repellents on your skin.”
The research was published Wednesday in PLOS ONE.
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