Scientists Look at What 'bugs' Bugs

BALTIMORE, Aug. 25 (UPI) — Research into just what insects find so “repellent” about insect repellents could reduce the spread of diseases, U.S. scientists say.

Published studies into two common insect repellents, DEET and citronella, found it’s not just the smell insects such as mosquitoes don’t like, but also the taste, reported Wednesday.

This better understanding of exactly what makes these repellents nasty could lead to a new generation of repellents, which would more effectively reduce the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, researchers said.

The research “hopefully points more and more toward a new horizon for replacements for things like DEET that will have higher effectiveness, lower toxicity and more environmental friendliness,” molecular neuroscientist Laurence Zwiebel of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who was not involved in the current studies, said.

Although it had been known the smell of DEET works to repel mosquitoes, the new research shows it also can ward of the pests when they taste it.

A female mosquito landing on your skin uses special taste neurons on her body to determine whether there’s good eating to be had.

“The first line of defense is you want to keep the bugs away from you,” Craig Montell of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore says. “But even if they do land on you, because DEET is also detected through the sense of taste, it also provides some protection by preventing them from biting.”

Researchers think mosquitoes and other biting insects, such as ticks, fleas or chiggers, may taste and smell repellents in a variety of ways.

Knowing exactly how repellents are repulsive to bugs could allow researchers to uncover better formulations that trigger the same reaction, Montell says.

“This opens the possibility of screening through literally hundreds of thousands of compounds to find more effective repellents.”

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