April 24, 2015, 9:35 a.m.
A person’s likelihood of being bitten by mosquitoes may be affected by their genes, a novel study in twins has found.
Scientists already knew that mosquitoes prefer to bite some people more than others, and that the differences in how attractive we are to the insects lie in our body odour.
Now it appears that these differences may be inherited.
In a study using 18 pairs of identical twins and 19 pairs of non-identical twins, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) released mosquitoes into a Y-shaped tube which divides into two sections, to test their attraction to odour from the study participants’ hands.
Identical twins, who have the same genes, were more similar in their attractiveness to mosquitoes than non-identical twins, whose genes are different.
The study was only a pilot, but the researchers said it provided exciting information about the evolution of humans’ relationship with mosquitoes – and could also open doors to new ways of preventing mosquito bites, and the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever.
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.Study author Dr James Logan, a senior lecturer in medical entomology at LSHTM said: “By investigating the genetic mechanism behind attractiveness to biting insects such as mosquitoes we can move closer to using this knowledge for better ways of keeping us safe from bites and the diseases insects can spread through bites.
“If we understand the genetic basis for variation between individuals it could be possible to develop bespoke ways to control mosquitoes better, and develop new ways to repel them. In the future we may even be able to take a pill which will enhance the production of natural repellents by the body and ultimately replace skin lotions.”