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Mosquitoes have neuronal fail-safes to make sure they can always smell humans

Mosquitoes have neuronal fail-safes to make sure they can always smell humans

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summary: When female mosquitoes look for a human being to bite, they sniff a unique cocktail of body odors that we emit into the air. These odors then stimulate receptors in the mosquitoes’ antennae. Scientists have tried to eliminate these receptors in an attempt to make humans undetectable by mosquitoes.  However, even after eliminating an entire family of odor-sensitive receptors from the mosquito genome, mosquitoes still find a way to sting us. Now, a group of researchers, publishing in the journal Cell on 18 August, has discovered that mosquitoes have developed redundant security systems in their olfactory system that make sure they can always smell our scents. “Mosquitoes are breaking all our favorite rules about how animals smell things,” says Margo Herre, a scientist at Rockefeller University and one of the lead authors of the article.  In most animals, an olfactory neuron is only responsible for detecting one type of smell. “If you are a human being and you lose a single odor receptor, all the neurons expressing that receptor will lose the ability to smell that odor,” says Leslie Vosshall of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor at Rockefeller University and senior author of the paper. But she and her colleagues have found that this is not the case with mosquitoes.  ‘More work needs to be done to eliminate mosquitoes because getting rid of a single receptor has no effect,’ says Vosshall. Any future attempts to control mosquitoes with repellents or anything else must take into account how inextricably they attract us.”  “This project started really unexpectedly when we were looking at how the human smell was encoded in the brains of mosquitoes,” says Meg Younger, a professor at Boston University and one of the lead authors of the paper.  They found that neurons stimulated by human odor 1-otten-3-ol are also stimulated by amines, another type of mosquito chemical used to seek out humans. This is unusual because, according to all existing rules on animal odor, neurons encode odor with narrow specificity, suggesting that 1-otten-3-ol neurons should not detect amines.   ‘Surprisingly, the neurons to detect humans through 1-otten-3-ol and amine receptors were not separate populations,’ says Younger. This could allow all human-related odors to activate ‘the human-detecting part’ of the mosquitoes’ brains even if some of the receptors are lost, acting as a safety device.

to read the article click here   science now

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