Studying mosquito neurons could convince them humans taste disgusting

mosquito repellent
At best, mosquito bites are annoying. At worst, they result in the spread of a number of diseases, ranging from malaria to yellow fever to the Zika virus. In many cases, these diseases cannot be vaccinated and treatment may be out of reach for populations in places where they are endemic.

However, researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently made a possible breakthrough in understanding just what makes us such attractive meals for mosquitoes — and, potentially, how “changing our flavor” could help stop it.

“Surprisingly, we know very little about how mosquito repellants actually work; that is, how they mess up the mosquito’s sense of smell,” Christopher Potter, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told Digital Trends. “This is because it has previously been technically very difficult to make connections between a repellant and what it does to the mosquito’s sense of smell. Our new work changes all that.”

What the researchers have done is to create, for the first time, a method for genetically labeling the majority of the olfactory (read: smell) neurons in the Anopheles mosquito. Genetically labeling those neurons means generating new mosquito strains in which the smell neurons express a special glowing green fluorescent protein — thereby allowing the neurons to be viewed in unprecedented detail.

“What I find most exciting is that we’ve discovered something new about how the ‘nose’ of the mosquito connects to the brain, which gives us some insights into what the mosquito might be ‘thinking’ when it smells us,” Potter continued. “Mosquitoes have three noses: the antenna, the maxillary palp, and the labella. We are studying the neurons in these three noses, and where those neurons go to in the mosquito brain.”

Interestingly, the part of the brain the researchers were able to track the nose neurons to was an area called the subesophageal zone.

“This is a region of the insect brain that has never before been implicated in the sense of smell,” Potter said. “Before it had only been implicated with the sense of taste. What this suggests is that there is a region of the mosquito brain that might be combining both smell and taste. In our brains, this combination gives rise to the perception of flavor, so maybe there is a region of the mosquito brain that is also acting as [a] ‘human flavor’ center.”

Identifying this “human flavor” will be the next step of the work. “We are really interested in using our discoveries to identify better insect repellants,” Potter said.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Get electronics gifts for high-tech homes for under $100 with these deals

The holiday season is in full swing with Christmas just around the corner. New deals on interesting, fun, and practical electronic gifts under $100 from major online retailers can convert last-minute shoppers to savvy bargain hunters.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.

Crush your next workout with the best Fitbit for every activity

Fitbits are amazingly helpful tools for setting fitness goals and tracking progress. However, different activities require different metrics. We've gathered a list of the best Fitbits for running, swimming, biking, and other activities.

These fitness deals come just in time to work off those holiday calories

Finding the motivation to work out is one thing. Finding space at home to get in a few sets and reps can be an entire challenge in itself. Luckily for you, Walmart and Amazon both have space saving fitness machines and tools on sale right…

Google Fit app finally gets a widget, among other new features

Google Fit hasn't received any new features since its redesign. This week, the company is rolling some new tools; users will be able to add a widget to their Android home screen, adjust the intensity of their workouts, and more.

Amazon is slashing its prices on an array of top blenders

Quality blenders from Vitamix to Ninja and more are on sale at Amazon — just in time to gift them for Christmas. They're great for preparing tasty treats, and as a kitchen staple, they make a great gift for the budding chef in your life.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…

REI clearance sale extends discounts on Garmin, Fitbit, and GoPro devices

Beyond the things you typically expect to find at REI — like tents, skis, and jackets — there are tons of great deals on quality tech foryour outdoor adventures. From smartwatches to action cameras, here are the best tech deals.
Smart Home

Alexa’s latest skill helps patients manage high blood pressure

People who need some help managing their high blood pressure are getting some help via a new Alexa skill developed in partnership with Omron Healthcare that will work directly with the manufacturer's monitors.