It’s lovely to be outside on warm, summer, nights. The fun stops when the mosquitos come out and start biting people. Have you ever wondered why mosquitos ignore some people while biting others? The answer could be in a person’s genes.
A study was done in an effort to determine what it is that causes mosquitos to be attracted to certain people and not to others. The study included experiments with identical twins (who have the exact same DNA as each other) and on fraternal twins (who share about the same amount of DNA as typical siblings do).
There were a total of 18 pairs of identical twins and 19 pairs of fraternal twins in the study. It comes as no surprise that the identical twins were more similar to each other in their appeal to mosquitos than the fraternal pairs of twins were. The study was done at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded that a key factor that determines whether or not mosquitos find a person attractive enough to bite has to do with the person’s genes. The twins in the study whom the mosquitos considered to be less attractive were producing what the researchers called “natural repellents”. In other words, something in their genes made them unattractive to most mosquitos.
This is a significant finding. It is wonderful to know that there is something genetic that causes mosquitos to avoid certain people (and snack on other people instead). Further investigation into the genetic mechanism behind attractiveness to biting insects, such as mosquitos, could lead to new ways to keep people safe from insect bites.
In general, we tend to think of mosquito bites as annoying, but mostly harmless. That’s not true in all parts of the world. Malaria is a disease that can be spread by infected mosquitos. The disease is caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito. When an infected mosquito feeds on a human, it is possible for that person to catch malaria.
Malaria causes people to get very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Malaria can be a deadly disease, but it is also possible to prevent illness and death from malaria.
Interestingly, there is another gene that can cause people to have additional protection against malaria. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention did an investigation with the Kenya Medical Research Institute. They determined that the trait that causes sickle cell anemia also provides 60% against overall mortality from malaria. Most of this protection occurs while the person is an infant or toddler.
Image by dr_relling on Flickr.
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