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Taking the bite out of the mosquito

For many years, we and other scientists have been working on mosquitoes and their ability to smell out human beings. In my lab, we have been recently able to find odors that can specifically act on the carbon dioxide detection machinery of mosquitoes.

There's one class of compounds that can block the carbon dioxide receptor, another class of compounds can mimic the activity of carbon dioxide and the third class of compound, which is the most exciting are odors that can super-activate the mosquito's carbon dioxide sensor. Or in other words, it blinds the carbon dioxide sensor for several minutes and they are unable to navigate towards a carbon dioxide source.

The three species of mosquitoes that we've concentrated on in this paper are Aedis aegypti, which is the mosquito that transmits dengue virus and yellow fever. We've also worked on Culex quinquefasciatus. These are the mosquitoes that transmit filariasis in parts of the world and actually also transmit West Nile Virus here in California, but the most dangerous of all these species is Anopheles gambiae, and Anopheles gambiae transmits malarial parasite in Africa and other parts of the world.

We have done this work in my lab here in California. Some of the work has been done outside in large arenas in Southern California. And part of the work has actually been done in Africa, in Kenya, where we were working in simulated environments, environments that simulate sort of natural conditions and we were testing for the ability of these blinding chemicals, so as to say, to be able to disrupt the ability of mosquitoes to enter a hut. Now, we are in the process of using these chemicals to create behavior disruption strategies that can block mosquitoes from finding human beings and in a way, help in blocking transmission of diseases by these mosquitoes.