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Mosquito Preferences

August 3, 2009

A listener asks: Why do mosquitoes find some people tastier than others?


A mosquito’s discriminating palate. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Melody Hensley of Washington, D.C. wrote to ask why mosquitoes always seem to bite her more than other people. Well, Melody, medical entomologist James Logan of Rothamsted Research in the United Kingdom confirms that your misery has a scientific basis.

JAMES LOGAN (Rothamsted Research):
There’s always that annoying person that seems to never be bitten. And it’s all to do with the way you smell.

He and his team recently discovered that people who rarely get bitten produce an excess of acidic chemical compounds called ketones. This tricks mosquitoes into perceiving them as ill, so they stay away. These chemicals are now being developed into a mosquito repellent which could be available within the next few years. Logan says that being unattractive to mosquitoes likely has a genetic basis, and they are now testing this hypothesis. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.