Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

Mosquito Barricade

By Jocelyn SelimApril 28, 2005 5:00 AM
Courtesy of Rothhamsted Research


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Everyone knows mosquitoes like some people better than others. Now biologists at Aberdeen University in Scotland have figured out why.

“Mosquitoes find their victims by homing in on specific molecules emanating from human breath and skin,” says team leader Jennifer Mordue, “and some people’s particular blend of molecules is more attractive than others.” After putting mosquitoes in the base of a Y-shaped tube with different blends of human compounds at each end, Mordue watched which fork the bugs preferred.

After repeated tests, Mordue isolated several compounds that were as powerful as commercial sprays at deterring mosquitoes. “These compounds are only present normally in a fraction of people, perhaps those who evolved a bit of extra resistance,” she says. Mordue suggests that rather than repelling mosquitoes, the compounds mask molecules that normally attract them. For example, the repellent deet doesn’t harm insects; it just interferes with their ability to detect a specific molecule on human skin that acts as a powerful attractant.

Mordue is testing ways to bottle her molecules into a commercial repellent. “There have been a lot of safety concerns about long-term use of over-the-counter sprays,” she says, “so a product based on natural human compounds would be a welcome addition to the arsenal.”

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 50%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In