Mosquitos Have Feelings, Too!
The native New Yorkers I share this wonderful city with would say that I pretty much literally grew up in the woods. Far from metropolitan, my hometown was more of a village sprawling among ponds, natural fields, and hundreds of acres of original forrest.
If your childhood was anything like mine, then you know the endless summer mosquito struggle all too well. You step out into nature one time and suddenly your ankles and knees (my personal target zones) are itchy and raw with bites from the little blood suckers.
But why do mosquitos seem to be attracted to some more than others? I don’t think my sister has ever had a single bite in her life, and yet here I am, every summer, slowly being eaten alive by bugs I can barely even see.
Now we may be closer than ever to answering that question thanks to a new study in PLOS that used groups of female twins, both fraternal and identical, to study and control the genetic and environmental variables that might be contributing to our appetizing, or repulsive, affect on mosquitos.
So what is it that makes us so damn tasty to the pesky insects? Environment, lifestyle, or pure genetics?
Keep Reading to find out how this twin study has solved the mosquito paradox for good!
The Twin Study
One of the two things I remember from high school biology (other than that THE MITOCHONDRIA IS THE POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL) is that using both fraternal and identical twins study the effect of nature OR nurture on a human phenomenon is the most accurate way to do it.
So basically, the TwinsUK study groups were asked to place their hands in at either end of a container holding 2- female mosquitos (don’t worry — they didn’t let them get close enough to bite). Amazingly, the identical twins who put their hands at either end of the container had consistently much more correlated scores than the pairs of fraternal twins.
From the study, scientists estimated that the attractiveness of a person to mosquitos’ sense of smell is due approximately 67% to their genes. That’s a HUGE finding.
So… What Does This Mean?
So it’s common knowledge by now that your body odor isn’t just an indicator of your personal hygiene habits — some people smell worse than others because of their genetics (thanks, dad). But it’s not just what we smell like that has ties to our genes — it’s how we smell, too. No two human scent palettes are exactly the same; there are differences in the way we perceive chemical odors of other humans! (Hence why you might find yourself weirdly attracted to some body odors… not speaking from experience. It’s science!)
Turns out mosquitos have a similar genetically coded sense of smell, which is why they could be attracted to certain parts of your body (maybe some that don’t produce such a pungent stink) more than others.