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With mosquitoes running rampant this season, scientists discovered that the little pests are more complex than originally believed, New Scientist reported.
In a new study, a research team found that mosquitoes can still smell people – and bite them – even if their human-scent receptors have been removed.
Female mosquitoes pick up human and other animal scents through olfactory neurons located primarily on their antennae, which detect and transmit scent information to the brain.
Now, researcher Meg Younger and her colleagues used gene-editing technology on females of the Aedes aegypti species to deactivate these receptors in their antennae.
But when the insects were exposed to human odors again, researchers found that their brain activity showed that mosquitoes could still detect smells.
“(This was) the last thing that we expected to find,” says Younger.
Her team then used RNA sequencing to investigate what is happening at the cellular level and found that olfactory neurons were more complicated.
They observed that a single olfactory neuron could have numerous types of receptors – instead of one – and that the human odor stimulated certain receptors that were activated.
“If one of these types of olfactory receptors is mutated or no longer functioning, there’s this backup system,” said Christopher Potter of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Potter, who was not involved in the study, discovered a similar phenomenon in fruit flies.
The findings, however, show that genetically engineering the bugs to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases might not be ideal.
Younger suggested that resources should be focused on creating more potent traps and repellents.