Causing immense skin irritation and millions of casualties globally, the most dangerous animal in the world is pin-sized: the mosquito. Mosquito bites can have deadly consequences, transferring life-threatening diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever, to humans. What really attracts mosquitos is scent, and each individual’s signature scent is produced by tiny microorganisms and that naturally live on our skin, as well as the molecules they produce and metabolize, called the skin microbiome.[1,2] In an effort to prevent mosquito bites and thereby mosquito-borne diseases, researchers recently investigated the role of microbiota in attracting dangerous mosquito bites in a recent scientific review.
Mosquito Bites and The Skin Microbiome
The researchers analyzed thousands of articles, discovering that mosquitos gravitate towards certain bodily areas based on the bacteria residing there, and they avoided biting skin that was washed with antibacterial soap. Certain bacteria created unique odors; for example, Bacillus bacteria produced foot odors, while the Corynebacterium produced sweat odors.[4,5] However, not all bacteria attracted mosquito bites, as mosquitos were drawn to certain bacteria’s scents while ignoring other odors entirely. Additionally, mosquitos have unique preferences for their scents, as two individuals who were bitten by two different mosquitos had entirely different bacterial populations. Researchers also noted that mosquitos’ unique preferences can be caused by their ability to sense how bacteria interact with one another.
Mosquito-borne diseases can be deadly, but analyzing the role that bacteria play in attracting mosquito bites is a launching point for the prevention of these diseases. By recognizing the complex interactions between mosquitoes and bacteria, researchers have the opportunity to pinpoint what attracts mosquitoes exactly. In fact, ongoing research is doing this right, as researchers are now mapping the skin’s bacteria to find that bacteria that can repel mosquitoes. Therefore, the role of our very own bacteria may be a powerful tool for preventing mosquito-borne diseases in the future.
From the development of malaria to dengue, mosquito bites cause an immense range of diseases. Mosquitoes themselves are drawn to humans based on each person’s odor, which itself is caused by unique makeups of bacteria. What attracts each mosquito is unique as well, as two different mosquitoes can be attracted to bacteria of different species. Although the factors behind these phenomena are unknown, mosquitoes have the ability to sense how bacteria interact with one another, and this may play a role in mosquitoes’ unique preferences. Though research is currently being performed to investigate the relationship between bacteria and mosquitoes further, this review suggests that greater knowledge of our own bacteria can prevent dangerous diseases in the future.
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Takken W, Verhulst NO. Host preferences of blood-feeding mosquitoes. Annu Rev Entomol.2013;58:433-453; PMID: 23020619 Link to research.
Shelley WB, Hurley HJ, Jr., Nichols AC. Axillary odor; experimental study of the role of bacteria, apocrine sweat, and deodorants. AMA Arch Derm Syphilol.1953;68(4):430-446; PMID: 13091383 Link to research.
De Jong R, Knols BG. Selection of biting sites on man by two malaria mosquito species. Experientia.1995;51(1):80-84; PMID: 7843335 Link to research.
Ara K, Hama M, Akiba S, et al. Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control. Can J Microbiol.2006;52(4):357-364; PMID: 16699586 Link to research.
Leyden JJ, McGinley KJ, Holzle E, et al. The microbiology of the human axilla and its relationship to axillary odor. J Invest Dermatol.1981;77(5):413-416; PMID: 7288207 Link to research.
Verhulst NO, Qiu YT, Beijleveld H, et al. Composition of human skin microbiota affects attractiveness to malaria mosquitoes. PLoS One.2011;6(12):e28991; PMID: 22216154 Link to research.
Busula AO, Takken W, JG DEB, et al. Variation in host preferences of malaria mosquitoes is mediated by skin bacterial volatiles. Med Vet Entomol.2017;31(3):320-326; PMID: 28639690 Link to research.