Mystery solved: they discover why mosquitoes bite some people and not others

After multiple speculations about why mosquitoes bite some people and not others, science has just delivered its verdict. The amount of carboxylic acid that each individual produces in its skin will determine the extent to which its body is attractive to these insects. who generate higher levels of this compound will give off a certain body scent and become a “mosquito magnet”while those who generate less will manage to go more unnoticed by them.

This is the main conclusion of the study that two researchers from the Rockefeller University of New York, Leslie Vosshall and María Elena de Obaldia, have just made public. Their results have been published in the journal Cell and put an end to a whole series of popular theories about what attracts mosquitoes, often with no scientific basis whatsoever.

Both researchers have managed to show that this type of acid that emanates from the skin can create a really intoxicating perfume for mosquitoes. These substances present in the human body constitute a group of molecules that each person secretes in different quantities and compositions.constituting a sign of personal identity.

“There is a very, very strong relationship between having large amounts of these fatty acids in your skin and being a magnet for mosquitoes,” said Professor Vosshall.

64 volunteers with socks on their arms

This result has been discovered after an experiment that lasted three years. The scientists asked 64 volunteers to put nylon stockings on their forearms in order, in this way, to be able to impregnate them with the molecules of their skin. 2,300 different tests were carried out in which the mosquitoes were shown each pair of socks so that they could detect their smell and choose some of them.

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Mosquitoes were used for this test. Aedes aegyptithe main vector species of Zika, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunyaand observed how the insects flew through different tubes towards one media or another.

With great difference, the volunteer that was most attractive to these mosquitoes was the so-called ‘Subject 33’, who received four times the visits of the insects than the next in the rankingand nothing less than 100 times more than the least visited by them, the ‘Subject 19’.

The samples in the trials were not identified, so the experimenters did not know which participant had worn which stocking. Still, they immediately noticed that something unusual was happening in any test involving Subject 33, because the bugs would pounce directly on his stockings. “It was evident within seconds of starting the rehearsal,” says De Obaldia.

Then, and in view of these results, the researchers analyzed the different volunteers to find out what differentiated them. They used chemical analysis techniques to identify 50 molecular compounds present in the participants’ skin. It was then that They found that the volunteers most attractive to mosquitoes produced much higher levels of carboxylic acid than the others.This substance is used by bacteria on the skin to produce the body odor that every human has. and that is unique to each person.

This discovery opens the door to the manufacture of mosquito repellent products that reduce the presence of these acids or affect the bacteria that produce each person’s body odour.

Although the experiment (which was later extended to more participants, with identical results) was carried out with the aforementioned species of mosquito, the researchers consider that other specimens would have the same behaviour.

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Reference study:


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