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Sniffing out a strategy to defeat malaria

Medicine@Yale, 2010 - Jan Feb


Humans spend $10 billion per year on deodorants, but to mosquitoes — including Anopheles gambiae, carriers of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa (see photo) — our sweat is the sweetest perfume.

In the February 3 online edition of Nature, John R. Carlson, Ph.D., the Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and colleagues report that they expressed a variety of A. gambiae odorant receptors in a neuron on the antennae of mutant fruit flies. First author Allison Carey, a student in the School of Medicine’s M.D./Ph.D. program, then recorded over 27,000 responses to 110 different odors.

The team found that many A. gambiae receptors are precisely tuned and highly sensitive to components of human body odors, which helps them locate and infect the hundreds of millions of people afflicted with malaria each year.

“Compounds that jam these receptors could impair the ability of mosquitoes to find us,” says Carlson. “Compounds that excite some of these receptors could help lure mosquitoes into traps or repel them.”