This does not stink.
October 3, 2013 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Ultra-prolonged activation of CO2-sensing neurons disorients mosquitoes. It’s hard to hide from a hungry mosquito: the insects home in on their human targets by detecting body heat, carbon dioxide, and odors. Repellents containing DEET ward off mosquitoes and other bugs, but until recently (pdf) no one knew why. Some research indicated that mosquitoes smell and avoid the insect repellent DEET. (pdf) Armed with the knowledge that carbon dioxide (CO2) present in exhaled air is the most important sensory cue for female blood-feeding mosquitoes....

"Anandasankar Ray and colleagues have now identified volatile odorants that modify the CO2 detection pathway in the three deadliest mosquito species (Anopheles gambiae, Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus), and demonstrate the ability of odorants to disrupt CO2-mediated attraction behaviour. One compound has the novel property of causing ultra-prolonged activation of CO2-detecting nerve cells, with brief exposure resulting in prolonged disorientation. Others mimic or inhibit CO2-sensing. Compounds used in this proof-of-principle experiment, such as 2,3-butanedione, have properties that preclude use on humans, but this work could lead to the development of a new generation of insect repellents and lures that can work in small quantities."

Short summary: new safe and effective mosquito repellants on the way.
posted by three blind mice (11 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Short summary: This isn't safe, but it's interesting... and there MAY be a safe and effective mosquito repellant on the way.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:34 AM on October 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

Thank you. When I first heard about the Kite patch, I wondered about the science behind how it is supposed to work (beyond “mosquitos smell CO2.” I’m really happy you provided the peer-reviewed research (I assume) their work is based on.
posted by thebestsophist at 7:54 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anything that causes mosquitoes discomfort and confusion is alright by me.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:54 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

That forest full of mosquitoes sound is even worse when you're out in the country, and you hear the sound from a distant treeline between fields when the sun dips low and it slowly and steadily gets closer.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:55 AM on October 3, 2013

I wonder if you could identify the protein that has a CO2 binding site using 14C isotopically labelled CO2 (or DEET or one the stronger) on a native gel (cut out the band that develops film and run MS). If you could get a protein structure, you could design a repellent molecule. Too bad the NIH is closed for business, or I'd submit that for a grant proposal.
posted by 445supermag at 8:02 AM on October 3, 2013

From quickly skimming the linked papers, it seems that this vulnerability is conserved across at least three mosquito species and several (17 of 18 tested) strains of fruit fly. Is it crazy to think that this is suggestive of the trait being pretty widespread across insects? For example, bedbugs rely heavily on sniffing out CO2 to find their hosts; perhaps these oderants would also screw with them?

Obviously mosquito repellent takes priority by a huge margin, but it'd be nice to take a side-swipe at bedbugs along the way.
posted by metaBugs at 8:15 AM on October 3, 2013

Recommended reading:

"The Prophet of the Road," from The Atlas by William Vollmann.
posted by Mister_A at 8:20 AM on October 3, 2013

Spiders catch bugs, bees spread pollen, etc. Do mosquitoes provide any positives to the world?
posted by inigo2 at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2013

Mosquitos are food for fish, birds, bats and other insects...and I guess an argument could be made that by spreading disease they keep populations of mammals in check to a degree. Maybe?
posted by jnnla at 9:17 AM on October 3, 2013

“They don’t occupy an unassailable niche in the environment,” says entomologist Joe Conlon, of the American Mosquito Control Association in Jacksonville, Florida. “If we eradicated them tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life.

But then again, "some scientists believe that removing the entire mosquito population from the tundra ecosystem could reduce the numbers of migratory birds nesting there by as much as 50 percent."
posted by Iridic at 9:54 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I didn't realize when I linked it, this post was from today :P

Dengue fever on the rise in Florida and elsewhere.

Potential natural and food safe compounds chemically similar and repellent as DEET.
posted by tilde at 10:46 AM on October 3, 2013

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