April 1 (UPI) -- Ever wonder why mosquitoes are pulled so strongly to humans?
The insects love the lactic acid and other acidic volatiles contained in human sweat, according to a study published Thursday in Current Biology.
"People have been looking for more than 40 years," Matthew DeGennaro, a researcher at Florida International University, said in a press release. "Even in the 1960s, scientists knew it was sweat and lactic acid, but no one knew how those were sensed. Back then, mosquito scientists didn't have genetics."
DeGennaro and a team of researchers uncovered this mystery after locating in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes a special olfactory receptor, called Ionotropic Receptor 8a, that detects the sweat odor. The Aedes mosquito type can deliver lethal diseases like dengue, yellow fever and Zika.
"Blocking the IR8a pathway could be an important strategy for repellent design," DeGennaro said.
The researchers now want to devise a chemical screen that can lure mosquitoes to it to disturb the Receptor 8a enough that it tamps down their urge to seek humans.
Then they want to develop a perfume keep people safe from mosquito bites.
This could help prevent the transmission of Zika, which can cause birth defects in babies born to mothers bitten by mosquitoes, according to the World Health Organization.
"Removing the function of this receptor removes approximately 50 percent of the host-seeking activity. Odors that mask the IR8a pathway could be found to enhance the effectiveness of current repellents like DEET or picaridin."