Every summer I wonder why I don’t spend more time reading my favourite books in the park blanketed by the cool shade of a beautiful tree. Five mosquito bites later I’m jolted back to reality and sequester myself in my room and read a book about a mousy protagonist reading a book under the cool shade of a beautiful tree. If I had my way I would grab my pitchfork, my torch, and my bug spray and lead the war on mosquitoes. But the sensible scientist in me, capable of rational thought in the midst of the searing irritation spreading from my battle scars mosquito bites, considers the possible implications of a world without mosquitoes.
Luckily, I Google searched my way to a Nature article published in July 2010 that considers the consequences of a world without these blood sucking tyrants. After reading this enlightening article, I have concluded that I would still throw caution to the wind and wipe mosquitoes off the face of the earth.
It would be one thing if mosquitos’ only source of food was human blood, but nope, not all mosquitos feed on humans. For example, While, Aedes aegypti is known for feasting on human blood, a population of “forest” mosquitoes in Kenya were found to feed preferentially on other animals. Researchers interested in learning the genetic cause of these feeding preferences studied “forest” mosquito populations to develop greater insight on those that fed on humans.
The two mosquito populations were capable of interbreeding and the genes of their hybrid offspring, whom displayed mixed affinity for both human and animal blood, were analyzed. They discovered that mosquitoes that fed on humans had a higher abundance of receptors that responded to sulcatone, a chemical released in human body odor. The same receptors were found in “forest” mosquitoes, but in addition to having fewer receptors, the receptor had a lower affinity for sulcatone. However, increasing the amount of sulcatone released by animals did not entice mosquitoes that preferred human blood, suggesting that feeding preferences are also influenced by other factors.
It has become clear to me that from a wide range of options, mosquitos have consciously chosen evolved to seek human blood. That’s all I need to hear to get rid of these suckers!