Assaulting the mosquitos sense of smell

The mosquito may be natures most effective bioterrorist, accounting for millions of deaths each year. But the end of its eons long reign of terror may be in sight. Scientists have begun to apply the power of genomics and molecular biology to understand how the mosquito detects the subtle chemical cues that lead it to its targets. The mosquito is the most dangerous animal on the planet. It relies on its sense of smell to find the source of its blood meals. So understanding how its olfactory system works at the molecular level should suggest new and novel ways to keep it from spreading catastrophic diseases, says Laurence J. Zwiebel, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt. His laboratory is the first to have identified the genes that code for proteins, called odorant receptors, which are a key part of the mosquitos olfactory system. These proteins extend outside olfactory neurons and, when they come into contact with specific chemicals in the form of odors, initiate the cascade of electrochemical events that produce the sense of smell.

Writing in the Nov. 27 issue of the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Zwiebel and his colleagues at Vanderbilt, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Yale University report isolating four genes from the genome of Anopheles gambiae an African mosquito that feeds primarily on humans and spreads malaria that are extremely similar to genes generally considered to code for odorant receptors in the fruit fly Drosophila, which serves as a scientific model for insects. The researchers also determined that these genes are only expressed in the mosquitos antennae and maxillary palps, which serve a role similar to the nose.

There is a general misconception that mosquitoes pick prey based on the taste of their blood. Actually, previous studies have shown that mosquitoes are primarily attracted by body odor and other emissions such as carbon dioxide. We all produce a clo

Contact: David F. Salisbury
Vanderbilt University

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