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Scientists figured out why some people are like magnets for mosquitoes

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Some people are mosquitoes’ favorites and are like real magnets for them. A new study suggests it may have something to do with the way they smell, the Associated Press reported.

Its authors found that the individuals most attractive to mosquitoes produced an abundance of certain odor-related chemicals on their skin. And the bad news for human magnets: Bloodsuckers remain loyal to their pets over time.

“If you have high levels of these substances on your skin, you will be the person at the picnic who gets all the bites. Folklore abounds with claims about who mosquitoes bite the most, but most of them are not supported by hard evidence.” says Leslie Voschol of the research team at the Rockefeller University in New York.

For the purposes of the study, published in “Cell” magazine, specialists conducted an experiment that pitted human odors against each other.

Researchers asked 64 volunteers to wear nylon stockings around their forearms to capture odors on their skin. The socks were placed in individual traps at the end of a long tube, after which dozens of mosquitoes were released.

It was immediately obvious to the scientists that the blood-sucking insects target the most attractive individuals for them. The researchers even organized a tournament of sorts in which the top-ranked human magnet was about 100 times more attractive to mosquitoes than the bottom-ranked human magnet.

The experiment used mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti species, which spreads diseases such as yellow fever, Zika and dengue. Voschol says he expects similar results from tests with other species, but further research is needed to confirm them.

By testing the same people over several years, the study showed that the tastes of mosquitoes do not change over time, and that individuals who are like magnets for them remain so.

Researchers have found one common factor: People who attract mosquitoes have high levels of certain acids on their skin. These “oily molecules” are part of the skin’s natural moisturizing layer and people produce them in varying amounts. Healthy bacteria that live on the skin absorb these acids and produce some of the skin odor, Voschol explains.

Scientists add that one cannot get rid of these acids without harming the health of the skin.

However, the research could help find new methods of repelling mosquitoes, notes Jeff Riffle, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington, in a commentary accompanying the publication. There may be ways to manipulate skin bacteria and alter people’s seductive smells, he believes.

Riffle adds that finding ways to combat mosquitoes is by no means easy, as “these creatures have evolved to be hardy and vicious biting machines, and they have a lot of backup plans to find us and drink our blood.”

Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash

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