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We can Fight Malaria by Changing the Flavor of Humans, say Scientists

About 440,000 people, most of them children, died of malaria, says WHO

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FILE - Mosquitoes live inside a stock cage in a mosquito laboratory at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, May 30, 2013. Researchers at the school discovered that malaria-infected mosquitoes are more attracted to human odors. VOA
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Have you ever noticed how some people seem to be bitten by mosquitoes more than anyone else?

Apparently, some people taste better to malaria mosquitoes than others, and scientists are trying to figure out why so they can turn that information into a repellent to protect us all from malaria.

Such a repellent might be able to prevent some of the 214 million cases of malaria the World Health Organization says occurred in 2015, mostly in Africa. About 440,000 people, most of them children, died of malaria, the WHO said.

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Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found evidence of what attracts malaria mosquitoes to humans for a blood meal, and the smell isn’t the only thing.

FILE - A worker of the Ministry of Public Health and Population fumigates in the street against mosquito breeding to prevent diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 15, 2016. VOA
FILE – A worker of the Ministry of Public Health and Population fumigates in the street against mosquito breeding to prevent diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 15, 2016. VOA

Christopher Potter, an assistant professor of neuroscience, is working on the sensing ability of mosquitoes. Unlike humans who have one nose, Potter says, mosquitoes have three pairs of noses.

These include two antennae and two maxillary palps, which are fuzzy appendages below the insect’s head and are parallel to the feeding needle, Potter said. At the end of that feeding needle or proboscis, are the labella, two small regions with neurons that recognize smells and tastes.

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“So this suggests that the mosquito brain might also have a region of the brain that’s dedicated to flavor, to combining smell and taste,” he said.

“And that is something they are very likely doing when they are actually landing on us and looking around for a place to bite,” he added. “They are actually smelling us and tasting us, and perhaps that means they are also flavoring us and that is part of what they are looking for when they’re trying to decide who they should bite from and where they are going to bite.”

Potter and his colleagues made this discovery about the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, by making certain neurons in the insect’s noses fluoresce, or glow green. They wanted to trace those green-glowing external sensory neurons to the brain.

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The green-glowing neurons lighted up in the brain when they were exposed to complex odors. These help the mosquito distinguish human blood from that of other warm-blooded animals.

It’s the first time scientists were able to pinpoint the exact location of the senses of smell and taste in mosquitoes.

By studying the smell- and taste-detecting neurons, the finding suggests that it’s possible mosquitoes like not only the smell of humans but our flavor as well.

“The long-term goal is to identify better repellents, things that will be better, safer, cheaper and more effective that we can manufacture on a larger scale and distribute it across the world.”

Currently, the insect repellent DEET is widely used in malaria-endemic regions, but it’s not 100 percent effective, and a fair amount of the chemical needs to be applied to the skin to repel mosquitoes. (VOA)

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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WHO: Nearly 1 Billion People Risk Hearing Loss by 2050

Problems resulting from hearing loss are expected to rise because of a growing and aging population - a population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050

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An 85-year-old Nepalese man is seen fitted with a hearing aid, in Kathmandu, Nepal, April 12, 2017. VOA

On the occasion of World Hearing Day, Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning one in 10 people globally, or more than 900 million, are at risk of disabling hearing loss by 2050 unless preventive action is taken now.

The World Health Organization reports 466 million people around the world currently suffer from disabling hearing loss. The annual cost to countries in direct health services and lost productivity resulting from this disability is estimated at $750 billion.

Problems resulting from hearing loss are expected to rise because of a growing and aging population – a population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

ALSO READ: Heart Surgery In Infants May Cause Deafness

Shelly Chadha, a technical officer in the WHO’s Department of Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss, says the rise in the aging population does not mean that an increase in hearing loss is inevitable. She says there are many factors besides aging that affect hearing.

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In cases where hearing loss is unavoidable, the WHO says people can be helped through technologies such as hearing aids and surgically implanted electronic cochlear implants. Pexels

“These may be factors such as infectious diseases, which we may encounter in childhood – rubella or mumps, meningitis or ear infections. There may be factors such as exposure to loud sounds, to loud music or noise at workplaces. Many of these causes are preventable, and by addressing them, we can reduce or minimize the risk of hearing loss,” Chadha said.

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The WHO reports about 60 percent of hearing loss in children can be prevented. Measures include immunizing children against infectious diseases, screening and treating chronic ear infections, avoiding the use of drugs harmful to hearing, and controlling exposure to loud sounds and music.

It says these devices are of great benefit to the hard-of-hearing because they make it possible for them to better communicate and socialize with others. (VOA)