Hushing bacteria to avoid a mosquito bite

By Morgan Sherburne • Published: October 17th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Whether it’s the beer you drink or the carbon dioxide you emit when you’re breathing, scientists have told us there are many reasons mosquitoes are drawn to humans.

Now, researchers are taking advantage of one of those reasons to find a less toxic way to ward off the tiny, flying insects.

Bacteria on our skin “talk” to each other using chemical signaling, called quorum sensing. They use this sensing to determine simple things such as how many bacteria cells should be in a colony based on available nutrients. Bacteria also discuss how to react against other microorganisms that might be harmful to them.

It turns out that mosquitoes access this bacteria-to-bacteria signaling to determine whether they want to land on the host for lunch.

Researchers at Texas A&M University wanted to see if they could shut down the mosquito’s ability to tap into bacteria signaling. They silenced the ability of a bacteria strain called Staphylococcus epidermidis [staf-uh-luh-kok-uhs epi-DERM-ih-dis] to produce this kind of signaling. That shut down a mosquito’s ability to “listen” to the bacteria molecules.

To test how this works, the researchers infused a sample of blood with the silenced bacteria and compared it with a sample of blood infused with the normal bacteria.

The scientists then let mosquitoes have access to the both samples at the same time. Twice as many mosquitoes flocked to the blood with the normal bacteria as the blood with the silenced bacteria.

The researchers are hoping to use their findings to develop less toxic methods of deterring mosquitoes.

In turn, humans could go back to enjoying drinking beer — and breathing — without turning into a bloodsucker’s buffet.