NEW YORK, NY - Mosquito bites are itchy, red and annoying. But mosquitoes also spread deadly diseases. A researcher has figured out a way to trick mosquitoes into thinking they’re full, so they won’t bite you.
“If there’s one out there it’s going to find me,” said Daren Holloman while walking in Piedmont Park. He told Channel 2 when a mosquito bites him, “I swell up. It’s like a welt on me. It swells into a welt.”
Mosquitoes spread deadly diseases including West Nile, dengue and malaria. Only female mosquitoes bite and they may bite several people spreading diseases along the way before using the protein in our blood to develop eggs.
“She’s consumed the equivalent of 275 cheeseburgers so, as you can imagine you or I would certainly be in a food coma after that,” said Laura Duvall a Postdoctoral Fellow at Rockefeller University in New York City.
Channel 2 traveled to the laboratory where Duvall conducts research on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
She breeds mosquito eggs into larva, pupa and finally adult mosquitoes in a small room that is warm and humid.
“How many mosquitoes do you think are in here?” Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston asked Duvall about the container of mosquitoes she held. “There are thousands of mosquitoes in there,” answered Duvall.
She wanted to understand why a mosquito’s attraction to people is turned off after she bites you and eats a big meal of blood. Duvall said a food coma is a good metaphor.
“They’re using similar pathways to the one you or I would experience after we’ve had basically Thanksgiving dinner,” said Duvall.
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Duvall identified the part that suppresses the female mosquito’s attraction to people and found that diet drugs can turn it on. She showed Channel 2 a video of a mosquito drinking sheep’s blood and diet drugs from an artificial feeder.
“So, the idea is if we find ways to turn this pathway on, then we can fool a hungry mosquito into acting like she’s already had a blood meal and losing interest in biting people,” said Duvall.
She said right now the drugs wear off after about three days. But researchers are working on making the drugs last longer and cheaper so mosquitoes bite fewer people.
“But we’re potentially really effecting their ability to vector diseases, so this is also something we can apply to maybe other mosquito species and maybe even other blood feeders like ticks,” said Duvall.
Mosquitoes are an important food source for bats, birds, frogs, turtle and fish.
“If we eliminate them from laying eggs then are there now not enough larvae for fish?” Huddleston asked Duvall.
“So, that’s a possibility. I think that these are drugs that won’t have a complete suppression variability to lay eggs. And so, I don’t think that we’d totally crash the population,” Duvall replied.
She believes within ten years you might be able to use the drugs to get mosquitoes to stop biting your family.
“They should definitely try it here and other public venues where there is water,” said Chilon Martin while walking at Piedmont Park.
Duvall said the next step is to test the diet drugs to see how well they work on other types of mosquitoes. She told us the drugs stopping mosquitoes from biting people won’t cause them to die.
Duvall said mosquitoes will still drink sugar which will keep them alive.
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