Skin Microbes Affect How Attractive We Are To Mosquitoes, Study Suggests

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Are you a mosquito magnet? It might be because of the microbes living on your skin, according to new research.

A small new study in the journal PLoS ONE suggests that the communities of microbes on our skin affects how attractive we are to mosquitoes, likely because the organisms affect our body odor. The finding could be promising for developing personalized malaria treatments.

In the study, researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands looked at what kinds of humans attracted the Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto mosquito, a kind of mosquito that's known for transmitting malaria.

LiveScience explains how scientists conducted the study:

[The researchers] collected volatiles — the easily evaporated chemicals responsible for odor — from the left feet of 48 men. They then gave the mosquitoes a choice between each sample and a standard ammonia concentration. (The odor of ammonia is known to attract mosquitos.) They also sequenced DNA from the skin of the left foot; this gave them information on what, and how much of it, was living on the men's feet.

The researchers found that the mosquito was more attracted to people who had a quantitatively more bacteria -- but less bacterial diversity, meaning not that many kinds of bacteria -- on their skin.

Researchers said that this finding could lead to new techniques for preventing malaria.

"The discovery of the connection between skin microbial populations and attractiveness to mosquitoes may lead to the development of new mosquito attractants and personalized methods for protection against vectors of malaria and other infectious diseases," they wrote in the study.

WebMD reported that our genetics do seem to account for 85 percent of mosquito bite susceptibility, and that people with more cholesterol or steroids on their skin seem to attract mosquitoes more than people with less of the compounds. In addition, people who give off higher quantities of carbon dioxide seem to be more susceptible to mosquitoes, according to WebMD.

"Any type of carbon dioxide is attractive, even over a long distance," Joe Conlon, Ph.D., technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association, told WebMD.

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