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Mosquitoes & People

November 17, 2014

Thousands of years ago, the mosquitoes that now transmit dengue fever made the switch from biting forest animals to seeking out humans.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Lindy McBride brown domestic female on the right and a black forest female

A black forest female Aedes aegypti formosus (left) bites animals and a brown domestic female Aedes aegypti (right) bites humans. (Photo credit: Lindy McBride)

How mosquitoes smell us. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Before they discovered humans, the mosquitoes that today transmit dengue and yellow fever were content to feed on the blood of furry forest animals. While at The Rockefeller University, evolutionary biologist Lindy McBride set out to discover how they made the leap to us.

LINDY McBRIDE (Princeton University):

Thousands of years ago certain populations evolved to specialize on humans and they’ve become really dangerous vectors of diseases.

HIRSHON:

McBride, now at Princeton, says these mosquitoes eventually branched off from their animal-loving cousins.

McBRIDE:

We collected the two types of mosquitoes; we showed that they prefer different odors. The mosquitoes that love humans were more sensitive to a compound found in our odor called sulcatone.

HIRSHON:

She says understanding how genes shape preferences for odors such as sulcatone could be useful in the global fight against mosquito-borne illnesses. The research appears in the journal Nature. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.