Smelly socks key in research to ward off mosquitoes

By Bill Levesque • Published: August 24th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Once in a great while, a set of smelly socks proves to be a powerful scientific tool in fighting disease. Of course, it also helps to have a wind tunnel and 200 sets of identical and nonidentical twins handy.

In the scientists’ bull’s-eye: The pesky, disease-carrying mosquito.

Scientific American reports British researchers have launched a study that will eventually gather dirty socks from twins in the United Kingdom and the African nation of Gambia. They will put the socks in a wind tunnel with mosquitoes and see what lures or repels the insects.

Scientists are hoping to decipher the intricate combination of odor compounds from the socks and their owners’ genetics and read the recipe for what makes some of us so tasty to mosquitoes.

What’s the point? Researchers says scientists may one day be able to develop a pill or medication that will allow the body to produce natural repellants to the bugs. And the ultimate goal is to fight mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus. A secondary benefit is preventing you from slapping yourself silly while killing the pests when you’re in the great outdoors.

Scientists know little about the role genetics plays in making us tasty treats for mosquitoes. Genetics and odor, it’s thought, play a part in how mammals make choices about mates. And it’s known that mosquitoes, like singles on a dating website, do find some of us more desirable than others. These same British researchers previously found mosquitoes were similarly attracted to each identical twin, and not so much to each nonidentical twin.

A lesson here: One person’s smelly socks are another’s scientific inspiration.