Mosquitoes: How they smell and find humans

Sciences chase blood

“Mosquitoes break all rules regarding animal scent”

In animals, each olfactory neuron carries one type of receptor - different in mosquitoes

In animals, each olfactory neuron carries one type of receptor – different in mosquitoes

Credit: Martins Rudzitis/Moment RF/Getty Images

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Insects are annoying and sometimes transmit dangerous diseases. Mosquitoes can smell their victims – and target them precisely. But why do they find people at all? It seems that a special feature of their olfactory system also plays a role here.

DrThe unusual structure of their olfactory cells appears to make disease-carrying mosquitoes particularly effective at hunting human blood. That’s what a research team led by Margaret Heary of the Rockefeller University in New York writes in the journal Cell. Scientists in the laboratory showed that the olfactory neurons of the Egyptian tiger mosquito (Aedes aegypti) works quite differently than would be expected from the generally recognized principle of the olfactory mechanism.

Hare said, according to a statement issued by the cell. Roughly speaking, the olfactory neurons in the tiger mosquito are not specialized for fewer odors, but rather jump on more molecules. The researchers hypothesize that the special structure of olfactory neurons increases mosquitoes’ ability to perceive exhaled carbon dioxide, or carbon dioxide, and different human body odors.

The tiger mosquito is a fearsome vector of viral diseases such as dengue, Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya. Animals bite and suck blood so they can reproduce. Favorite victims are us humans.

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Mosquitoes find us by tracking carbon dioxide from breath and body odors. It consists of a mixture of hundreds of different fragrances such as alcohol and ammonia. Mosquitoes recognize substances with the help of sensory cells, the so-called olfactory neurons, on their antennae.

But how exactly is olfactory information processed? There is a kind of dogma among researchers that each neuron in animals carries only one type of receptor. This receptor responds to very specific chemical compounds in the air. When the receptor is activated, the neuron sends a signal to the brain. The brains behind this principle – each neuron carries only one type of receptor – are Linda Buck and Richard Axel, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004.

Why do mosquitoes find their target?

Based on these findings, the researchers attempted to turn off the mosquito receptors. HOPE: Some neurons of such manipulated animals no longer travel to the brain and no longer travel to human prey. But this approach did not work, the mosquitoes found their target anyway. why?

In the new study, the research team showed that neurons in mosquitoes carry not just one receptor, but multiple receptors. “You can toss all of Buck and Axel’s bases in the trash with mosquitoes,” says Leslie Fochal, one of the authors, according to a statement from her institute. The researchers expected enormous skepticism about their results, having contradicted generally accepted orthodoxy.

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So they confirmed their findings in a whole series of experiments. They also showed that the same neuron can be activated by two completely different substances.

Simply put, it is not important for a mosquito that human scent activates neurons. The main thing is that it is activated and mosquitoes show the way. So when researchers turn off certain types of receptors in the lab, mosquito neurons can still be activated by other types. “Mosquitoes have Plan B after Plan B and then Plan B,” Fossall says. To me, this system is unbreakable.

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