Female Malaria Mosquitoes Have Secondary Set Of Odor Sensors Reveal Scientists

19 March 2017, 8:15 am EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
Female malaria causing mosquitoes have an extra odor sensor which is used by it to pick up human scents per a new study. This discovery may lead to advancement in the fight against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.  ( Katja Schulz | Flickr )

Mosquitoes belong to the Culicidae family and the females of the species are known as ectoparasites. This moniker has been given as they have a tube-shaped mouth, which helps them pierce the host's skin to draw the blood.

Researchers have been involved in a long study to determine how the female malaria-causing Anopheles mosquito uses its sense of smell to select its target.

They have found that the mosquito does not rely on visual senses to operate. Instead, it uses different scents to perform its activities. For instance, it uses the smell of carbon dioxide to zone in on its prey. After it has fed on blood, the mosquito then uses its odor sensors to locate a place with stagnant water where it can lay the eggs.

The Research

The research was started 15 years ago by a group of biologists at the University of Vanderbilt. In this study, the investigators observed a family of 79 odorant receptors (OR) in a bid to prevent Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

They discovered a surprising fact during the research, which revealed that the ORs of malaria mosquitoes did not react to most of the human odors. This belief was held by scientists previously.

Second Set Of Odor Sensors?

After further tests and study, the researchers pinpointed a specific reason for this discrepancy. They reported that malaria mosquitoes have a different odor sensor, which is specifically designed to detect human odors. This was first discovered five years ago in a fruit fly.

The other system of odor sensor consists of minimum two signals, which are human derived. These signals cannot be detected by the OR system of malaria mosquitoes. So, to hunt for human blood, female mosquitoes use this extra odor sensor system.

"This appears to be a more primitive olfactory system and one which Anopheles uses to detect humans. It fills important gaps in the mosquito's chemosensory perception that are not provided by the OR system," said Cornelius Vanderbilt, the director of this study.

Further Discoveries

L. Derryberry who is currently a student in Vanderbilt School of Medicine along with Jason Pitts a Research Assistant Professor carried out extensive experiments. They were successful in finding three varied sensors in the malaria mosquito. These sensors are known as inontropic receptors (IR).

The researchers discovered the way mosquitoes detect human blood. They shared that there is a combination of IRs, which react to the two types of compounds that are found in the human blood, namely carboxylic acid and ammonia.

According to Pitts, there are other kinds of malaria mosquito olfactory systems, which the research has still not uncovered.

Their study is available in the online journal Scientific Reports.

Photo: Katja Schulz | Flickr

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