About one in every 10 people appears to be more attractive to mosquitoes than everyone else. Why? No one knows exactly why, but genetics are thought to play a role: if your mom or dad was a mosquito magnet, you might be, too. Other factors include your diet, substances on your skin such as perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and deodorants, and how your particular body chemistry manifests on your skin surface. According to a paper published on December 28, 2011 in the online journal PLoS ONE, one answer for a particular mosquito might relate to the abundance and diversity of bacterial communities on your skin. Since this mosquito is key to malaria transmission, the researchers hope to shed light on new ways to prevent malaria.
These researchers conducted experiments with the Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto mosquito. They found that individuals with a higher abundance but lower diversity of bacteria on their skin were more attractive to this particular mosquito.
The researchers, led by Niels Verhulst of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, speculated that individuals with more diverse bacterial communities on their skin might host some bacteria that emit compounds to interfere with mosquito attraction. So having more diverse bacteria on the skin would make these individuals less attractive to mosquitoes, and therefore at a lower risk to contracting malaria. The researchers said they hope this work will lead to the development of personalized methods for malaria prevention.
By the way, not all mosquitoes bite. Only the female mosquitoes do. It’s been found that the females need human blood to develop fertile eggs.
Bottom line: A particular mosquito – the Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto mosquito – was found in experiments to be attracted to people with more bacteria, but fewer different kinds of bacteria, on their skin. This information might lead to individualized preventative measures for malaria, since this mosquito is key in malaria transmission.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.