Mosquitos hunt better at night

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  • Published: Sep 5, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Atomic / NMR Knowledge Base / Infrared Spectroscopy / Raman / Chemometrics & Informatics / MRI Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry / Proteomics / Base Peak / UV/Vis Spectroscopy

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In my experience, there are two types of people in the world of the mosquito - those who are attractive to the insects and those who are not. I only have to go to a shady part of my garden in the evening in summer and hold out my arm for the pesky creatures to descend and begin their feast. It takes a liberal spray with the deterrant used by the US military, known as DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) to keep them away. However, an article in PLOS One this year pointed out that the insects soon begin to lose their DEET sensitivity, so I am not wholly in the clear. My wife, on the other hand, is not appealing at all - to the mosquitoes.

The difference in attraction lies in the cocktail of chemicals which our bodies give off. We all emit many different kinds of chemicals but they are not necessarily the same, or in the same concentrations, from one person to the next. These airborne compounds are sensed by olfactory organs in the mosquitoes which tell them where there is suitable prey.

In a new development, scientists in France have found out that the sensing ability of mosquitoes is finely tuned, operating far more efficiently at night than during the day. Writing in Nature: Scientific Reports, the researchers used a combination of electrophysiology to test the responses of the antennae, and proteomics with mass spectrometry to demonstrate how a class of proteins known as odorant-binding proteins is produced in increasing amounts at night. This change coincides with increased sensory activity of the antennae to typical odorant chemicals.

In a way, this makes common sense. During the day, the mosquitoes are resting so do not need to be searching for food. At night, when they are hunting, the levels of the odorant-binding proteins increase accordingly.

These findings could help to develop new or modified ways to protect ourselves from mosquitoes. This is important for me at a personal level but is far more important in regions of the world where the malaria-transmitting mosquitoes abound, like Africa.

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