Jan 26, 2018 | By Tess

While swatting away mosquitoes might seem futile, scientists now believe it could ultimately deter mosquitoes from biting you. A recent study published by a team from the University of Washington suggests that mosquitoes have the ability to associate scents with mechanical shocks, and are thus capable of learning what types of odors to avoid.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, consisted of a number of experiments—some of which included 3D printing—that enabled the researchers to make some interesting discoveries about the blood-sucking insects.

In the first experiment, the researchers paired a particular odor with a mechanical shock (effectively mimicking what a swat would feel like using a vortex mixer). When mosquitoes were exposed to two odors, one with the shock and one without, the researchers found that the insects could quickly understand the association and stay away from the odor that had produced the mechanical shock.

“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” commented senior author and UW professor of biology Jeff Riffell. “Moreover, mosquitoes remember the trained odors for days.”

This discovery can be added to our somewhat limited understanding of mosquito biting patterns. As the scientists point out, it was always apparent that mosquitoes do not just bite at random and there are certain things that draw them to particular species and people. Apparently, they even have seasonal feeding habits: birds are their main prey in summer while mammals and birds are harangued more during other parts of the year.

3D printed arena for monitoring mosquito brain activity

In another experiment, the researchers used a special 3D printed arena to record mosquito brain activity while they were flying to learn how dopamine in the brain of a mosquito contributes to its learning abilities.

In short, the researchers tethered mosquitoes inside a 3D printed cylindrical container equipped with lights and an odor dispenser so that they could fly in place. The experiment compared regular mosquitoes (with dopamine) and genetically modified mosquitoes (without dopamine) to see the neural activity in the olfactory center of their brains as they flew.

Ultimately, the researchers claimed that the mosquitoes without dopamine had less neural activity than their dopamine counterparts and were actually less equipped to learn and process the odor information from the previous experiment.

Though one of the takeaways from the study is that it might be effective to swat away mosquitoes with ferocity, the research is actually aimed at understanding mosquito behavior for the purpose of mosquito control and limiting the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and West Nile virus.

“By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors,” explained Riffell. “This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.”

The University of Washington team is continuing its research into mosquito behavior and is now focusing on how mosquitoes learn and how they are drawn to and remember “favored hosts.” The project is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force Office of Sponsored Research, the National Science Foundation, and more.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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