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Tasty, Tasty Blood (to Mosquitoes)

Whether or not mosquitoes like to snack on your blood may be due in part to your genetics, according to a team led by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Body odor, they note, has been thought to play a role in determining what mosquitoes find appealing.

As James Logan and his colleagues report in PLOS One, they exposed sets of identical and fraternal twins to Aedes aegypti and gauged how attractive the mosquitoes found them to be. The more often mosquitoes in a sort of upside-down Y-shaped tube flew down one fork toward a volunteer, over that volunteer's sibling or fresh air, the more attractive the researchers deemed that person to be to mosquitoes.

Sets of identical twins were about equally attractive to A. aegypti, the researchers found, while some fraternal twins were more appetizing to mosquitoes than their sibling, suggesting a genetic component to mosquito attractiveness.

“Once we identify the genes involved, we may be able to screen populations to better predict the likely level of risk of being bitten, which is directly correlated to transmission of diseases like malaria and dengue," Logan tells Smithsonian magazine. Further, if those genes are linked to a particular odor, "we may also be able to develop a drug which would upregulate the production of natural repellents by the skin and therefore minimize the need for topical repellents.”