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A Mosquito Study Started as 'a Lark.' Then It Worked

Scientists discover that our diet drugs work on the insects, keep them from feeding
By Richard Kemeny,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2019 2:35 PM CST
An Aedes aegypti mosquito is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil   (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

(Newser) – Human diet pills could one day stop mosquitoes from feasting on you in the night. Scientists have given drugs used on people to trick blood-thirsty mosquitoes into thinking they've already had their fill of blood. The researchers hope the technique will eventually be used to control the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue, reports Nature. The idea was originally "kind of a lark," says neurobiologist Leslie Vosshall of Rockefeller University, but after early results at a conference caught the attention of someone from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the team decided to keep going. The drugs suppress hunger in humans by targeting molecules known as neuropeptides, already shown to be involved in food-seeking behavior in mosquitoes, too.

After the blood-sucking insects tried the solution, they were no longer interested in going near human scents. And the effects lasted two days. “The assumption was that the human drugs would kill the animal or have no effect, Vosshall tells the Atlantic. "It was a stupid thing." The researchers tried a lot to tempt the mosquitoes, including dirty nylon stockings, reports NPR. Even that wasn't enough to entice the them. The research opens up new avenues for research into mosquito control. Vosshall tells the BBC she imagined the drugs could be delivered to female mosquitoes in the wild, perhaps through traps that attract the pesky insects. Aside from keeping people up at night, mosquitoes spread diseases that kill millions of people each year, according to the World Health Organization. (Read more mosquito stories.)

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