Times 2

Buzz off! Scientists discover gas that confuses mosquitoes

The breakthrough could lead to new repellant sprays, lotions
By Fiona Macrae

Mosquito bites could become nothing more than a bad memory, with scientists finding a way to make the pesky insects buzz off. They've created a gas that swamps the mosquito's senses, making it next to impossible for them to sniff out human blood.

The breakthrough could lead to new repellent lotions and sprays, as well as gadgets designed to keep rooms and huts free of the biting insects. The discovery would also help in providing protection against malaria, and other topical ills such as dengue and yellow fevers.

Mosquitoes transmit the deadly disease to more than half a million people a year and cause millions of deaths around the world. Malaria claims the life of someone, somewhere, every 30 seconds. Some 2,000 Britons catch it each year while on holiday abroad and around ten die.

With most people protecting themselves by using expensive repellents such as DEET and sleeping under mosquito nets, there is an urgent need for new lines of defence. In the journal Nature, American scientists describe how they have created cocktails of chemicals that bamboozle the tiny sensors that mosquitoes use to pick up traces of carbon dioxide in the air, and home in on their unwitting human victims.

Anandasankar Ray, of the University of California, said: 'These chemicals offer powerful advantages as potential tools for reducing mosquito to human contact and can lead to the development of new generations of insect repellents and lures.

'The identification of such molecules, which can work at extremely low concentrations and are therefore economical, could be enormously effective in compromising the ability of mosquitoes to seek humans, thus helping control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.'

One of the chemical mixes works by swamping sensors the insects use to sniff out the carbon dioxide breathed out by people. In tests, it disorientated mosquitoes placed in a wind tunnel which contained wafts of carbon dioxide.

In another experiment, the compound bamboozled mosquitoes let loose in an enclosure containing carbon dioxide-filled huts. The researchers said that the chemicals used need to be tested more before they are cleared for use in people. In an accompanying article, Mark Stopfer, a U.S. government scientist, pointed out that mosquitoes are also attracted to the smell of human sweat, breath and skin.

But he added: 'The mosquito could be the world's most dangerous creature. 'It is a vampire predator for the malaria parasite and other pathogens that kill about a million humans, mostly children, each year. 'People protect themselves against mosquitoes by sleeping under fine netting and by slathering themselves with high concentrations of DEET - an effective, if expensive, repellent.

'These results bode well for the hunt to find a means of avoiding mosquitoes. 'The chemicals tested so far have not been shown to be safe for humans. 'But the principles that these compounds reveal are definitely not safe for mosquitoes.'

© Daily Mail, London

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