It’s not your imagination; mosquitoes really do prefer some people over others. Recent research using identical and fraternal twins confirms that mosquitoes seek out their next meal based on the unique scent of human skin, and that this odor is largely based on genetics.
While some think mosquitoes choose their targets based on the individual’s diet — and past studies show that the insects prefer beer drinkers, pregnant women and larger individuals — new research suggests that microbes may play a big role.
The human body contains over 100 trillion microbes, outnumbering even the number of human cells. Each individual has a unique microbial ecosystem, almost like a fingerprint, with different types of microbes and in different numbers. These microbes affect factors such as an individual’s scent.
A joint study by Kingâ€™s College London and Cornell University shows that the gut microorganisms between identical twins are more similar than that between fraternal twins, with the identical twins sharing on average 55 percent of microbe colonies compared to 40 percent for everyone else.
The jury is still out on whether your microbes are responsible for attracting or repelling mosquitoes.
Scientists are also finding a connection between microbes and genes.
A study conducted by the University of Nottingham, Rothamsted Research, and the University of Florida reveals that mosquitoes display a preference for the odors of certain individuals.
In the experiment, as reported by science news site IFL Science!, 20 mosquitoes travel down a Y-shaped tube. At the end of the tube, identical twins wait, each with a hand extended into a tube to see who the blood-suckers prefer.
The experiment is then repeated with fraternal twins. On average, fraternal twins share just 50 percent of their genes compared to nearly 100 percent for identical twins.
The study shows that mosquitoes display a weaker preference when choosing between identical twins than between fraternal twins, suggesting a genetic correlation to individual odor. The numbers reveal that on average, 67 percent of the variation between all subjects came down to their genes, which influence height Scientific American.
Science cannot yet offer a pill for people who are mosquito magnets, but the studies suggest that such manipulation may be on the horizon. Certain individuals, whether by genetics or microbes, or a combination therein, seem to prove less attractive as meals.
By identifying the chemical that these individuals possess, science may be able to share their genetic good luck in the form a cream or spray.
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