University of California, Riverside, have discovered a class of compounds that may possibly be the answer to developing inexpensive and safe mosquito repellents.

First working on fruit flies in the lab, the crew already knew that as the flies undergo stress, they emit mosquitocarbon dioxide, which warns other fruit flies of danger nearby. Their antennae detects the CO2, and they escape, due to special neurons sensitive to the gas.

What they couldn’t figure out is that fruits and other food sources naturally emit CO2 as a by-product, and how could the fruit fly avoid CO2, but still find its way to these foods?

The answer has been solved by Anandasankar Ray, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, and Stephanie Turner, his graduate student.

The duo has identified a new class of chemical compounds with specific smells that are present in ripening fruit. These compounds prevent the carbon dioxide-sensitive neurons in the flies from functioning.

This research has possibilities for controlling diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, such as the West Nile Virus, and  filariasis, an infectious tropical disease that affects the lymphatic system. Since the late 90s, 29,000 people in the United States have been affected with the West Nile Virus, while lymphatic filariasis has affected more than 120 million people worldwide.

The compounds can be used as a guide to research new repellents and masking agents that are both economical and eco-friendly.

Both Turner and Ray have continued lab work on mosquitoes that cause malaria and dengue fever. They are also seeking collaborations with various international scientists for further mosquito-related studies.

The study has been published in the August 26th issue of  Nature.

Source: University of California – Riverside.

Read more about the West Nile Virus in the West Nile Story.

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