Could Diet Drugs Make Mosquitos Crave Less Human Blood?

Vector-borne disease one of the biggest imminent threats to human life and, unfortunately, it disproportionately affects impoverished countries.  Not only are these countries harder to live in because of certain ecological conditions—including mosquito prevalence—but these also tend to be parts of the world with very little modern health care.  

And because of this, mosquito who carry disease constantly threaten everyday life in these small corners of our world.  But a new study might shed hopeful light on remedying this quite soon. 

Apparently, new research suggests that human diet drugs turn mosquitos off.  More specifically, when a human takes diet drugs—and they get into the blood stream—a mosquito who sucks that blood feels less inclined to get more of it. 

To understand this, we need to know a little more about mosquitos.  First of all, female mosquitos are the only ones who bite animals.  They happen to be adamantly drawn to human blood because it contains a protein (ATP) that is crucial for egg production in the insect. After they feed, they are sated for a few days or weeks—it depends on how long they wait before laying their eggs in stagnant water.

However, when the researchers gave these same mosquitos a saline solution which contained diet drugs designed to curb appetite, they found that these insects were no longer attracted to human scents. Further testing allowed the researchers to locate the exact receptor in the mosquito brain.

Senior study author Leslie Vosshall explains, “We’re starting to run out of ideas for ways to deal with insects that spread diseases, and this is a completely new way to think about insect control.”

Head of the Rockefeller University neurogenetics and behavior laboratory, she goes on to say, “Insecticides are failing because of resistance, we haven’t come up with a way to make better repellents, and we don’t yet have vaccines that work will enough against most mosquito-borne diseases to be useful.”

All that in mind, the researchers are now looking for a suite of drugs and other chemicals that could be used to control the appetite of biting insects.  Since pharmaceutical companies own human drug patents, finding intellectual property that is available for developing countries (who can’t afford big pharma bills) is crucial. 

At the end of the day, study author Laura Duvall, also a postdoc fellow with Rockefeller University, comments, “We are multiple steps away from using this in the field, and we will always need other complementary strategies alongside this.”