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Scientists explained why malaria mosquitoes are attracted to people with malaria

Posted February 12, 2017

Malaria is a very dangerous disease, spread with the help of mosquitoes. In fact, probably the most effective methods that are currently used to combat malaria are using poisonous chemicals. This is not ideal, because it affects other life forms in the ecosystem as well. Now scientists from Sweden conducted a study explaining why malaria mosquitoes like people with malaria.

Malaria mosquitos are attracted to a molecule, which is produced in patient’s blood when it is infected with the disease. Image credit: Jim Gathany / CDC via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Malaria is spread when an infected insect bites a healthy person. It causes an extreme illness with such symptoms as high fever, shaking, diarrhoea, vomiting, convulsions and sometime coma. Many people do not survive it and it is a major health problem in some African, South American and Asian countries. The solution is to eradicate mosquitoes that are spreading the disease and scientists have been on this quest for quite some time, but only with limited success. Now they think they figured out why malaria mosquitoes are attracted to people with malaria.

Scientists found that the parasite produces a special molecule, which stimulates the human red blood cells to release more carbon dioxide and other compounds that mosquitoes can smell. That is how they recognize malaria patients and attack them. In fact, scientists discovered that most malaria mosquitoes were attracted to the blood with this molecule even if concentrations of it were very low in the sample. Interestingly, mosquitoes actually do not need this molecule for themselves. It is only needed for the parasite of malaria to be able to grow. Scientists say that this molecule helps the parasite to attract mosquito to be able to travel to the new host organism, which is often a human.

Although there is no point in complimenting malaria, it is a result of a long evolutionary process. Ingrid Faye, one of the authors of the study, said: “This seems to be a well-functioning system, developed over millions of years, which means that the malaria parasite can survive and spread to more people without killing the hosts”. Scientists hope that this knowledge will help them developing new weapons against malaria, because currently used ones – ne s and insecticides – are not going to work forever. Because of how effective evolution is, it is likely that soon mosquitos will not be bothered by current anti-malaria measures anymore.

Scientists hope that knowing mosquito attraction mechanism of malaria will eventually spawn some traps. They would be simple, yet effective, and would not damage an entire ecosystem.


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