Mosquito ‘Invisibility Cloak:’ Scientists Create Scent To Deter Disease-Carrying Bloodsuckers From Preying On Humans

By Philip Ross on September 10, 2013 3:05 PM EDT

mosquito
Mosquitoes have been dubbed by some the most dangerous animal on earth. A new mosquito "invisibility cloak" could help limit the number of deaths caused by disease-carrying mosquitoes globally every year. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A mosquito "invisibility cloak" could be the answer to our worldwide mosquito problem. Instead of a repellent, the new approach to warding off disease-carrying mosquitoes uses a recently discovered group of compounds that actually inhibit the insect's sense of smell. The duly-termed mosquito "invisibility cloak" is said to render its user... well, invisible to pesky bloodsuckers.

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Some have referred to mosquitoes as the most dangerous animal on Earth. Their ability to carry and transmit deadly diseases like malaria, yellow fever and West Nile virus is unprecedented. According to the World Health Organization, mosquitoes were responsible for 600,000 deaths worldwide in 2010 because of malaria alone.

Some estimates put the total number of deaths caused by mosquitoes every year at over a million. That's why finding a way to limit the mosquito's ability to prey on humans is so important.

Mosquitoes are able to smell a human being up to 100 feet away. Researchers at the Mosquito and Fly Unit at the U.S. Department of Agriculture studied chemicals naturally found in humans to determine which scents attracted mosquitoes over others. They were able to pinpoint which chemicals were more attractive to mosquitoes and which were not. By creating a compound containing the unattractive scent, scientists could essentially mask the other scents produced by humans, making them "invisible" to mosquitoes.

Dr. Ulrich Bernier, who worked on the mosquito invisibility cloak project, gave a talk on Monday at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society on the findings. He said that certain natural human compounds can block a mosquito's ability to smell and target its victims -- as if the dinner bell was ringing and the mosquitoes just couldn't hear it.

"We are exploring a different approach, with substances that impair the mosquito's sense of smell. If a mosquito can't sense that dinner is ready, there will be no buzzing, no landing and no bite," Ulrich Bernier, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said at this month's American Chemical Society meeting, according to The BBC.

ABC News reports that among the odors that attracted mosquitoes the most was lactic acid, a component found in human sweat. On the other hand, a compound called 1-methylpiperzine repelled mosquitoes.  

Bernier explained how if someone put their hand in a cage full of mosquitoes where compounds like 1-methylpiperzine had been released, the mosquitoes didn't budge.

The goal is to mix these chemicals into lotions, creams and other cosmetics. That way, the mosquito invisibility cloak is with people at all times. Unfortunately, as The BBC notes, it could take years for any product like the mosquito invisibility cloak to reach the market.

Read more from iScience Times:

Mosquito Tracking Drones: Florida Officials Will Use Bird-Shaped 'Maveric' To Mount Attack Against State's Bug Problem [VIDEO]

Tiger Mosquitoes In NJ: Fierce Asian Pest Invades Tri-State Area, Vector For West Nile Virus [VIDEO]

Mega Mosquitoes: Why 'Gallinipper' Bites Feel 'Like Getting Stabbed' [VIDEO]

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