Swatting Mosquitoes Teaches Them To Avoid You

Aedes aegpyti knows what you smell

'If you are at a party or a barbecue and you are swatting the mosquitoes, make sure that your friend next to you is active in talking and they will probably avoid you and go [for] your friend, ' said Dr Jeffrey Riffell, co-author of the study, from the University of Washington. They repeated this test with mechanical vibrations thrown into the mix, and the effect on the mosquitoes was dramatic. A recent study published by a team from the University of Washington suggests that mosquitoes have the ability to associate scents with mechanical shocks, and are thus capable of learning what types of odors to avoid.

The study also suggests dopamine plays a crucial role in letting mosquitoes learn which humans to avoid.

Twenty-four hours later, the same mosquitoes were assessed in a Y-maze olfactometer in which they had to fly upwind and choose between the once-preferred human body odor and a control odor.

Researchers knew that mosquitoes don't randomly decide which individuals to bite. However, genetically modified mosquitoes lacking dopamine receptors lost the ability to learn. They found that neurons were less likely to respond in mosquitoes that didn't have dopamine, leading them to conclude it was vital for the bugs to process information, too.

In short, the researchers tethered mosquitoes inside a 3D printed cylindrical container equipped with lights and an odor dispenser so that they could fly in place.

"We show that olfactory learning may contribute to Aedes aegypti mosquito biting preferences and host shifts". Additional experiments by Riffell and his team showed that dopamine is also essential in mosquito learning. Training and testing to scents of humans and other host species showed that mosquitoes can aversively learn the scent of specific humans and single odorants and learn to avoid the scent of rats (but not chickens).

These findings may have important implications for mosquito control and the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases, according to the researchers.

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"By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors".

"Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly what attracts a mosquito to a particular human - individuals are made up of unique molecular cocktails that include combinations of more than 400 chemicals", Chloé Lahondère, a researcher from Virginia Tech who worked on the study, said in a statement.

"In both cases, we think dopamine is a critical component", said Riffell.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Current Biology.

They attributed this ability to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals to other parts of our brain.

Co-lead authors of the paper are from UW.

Funding for the research came from the Air Force Office of Sponsored Research; the National Institutes of Health; the National Science Foundation; the University of California, Riverside; MaxMind; a UW Endowed Professorship for Excellence in Biology; the UW Institute for Neuroengineering; and the Human Frontier Science Program.

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