Insect repellants may target smell sense

Sept. 22, 2010 at 6:33 PM
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NEW HAVEN, Conn., Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Understanding the genetic basis of how insects can differentiate smells could pave the way for better insect repellents, U.S. researchers say.

Yale scientists say they've learned for the first time how a group of genes used to differentiate smells is turned on and off, opening new possibilities for insect control to reduce the spread of infectious disease and damage to agricultural crops, a university release said.

Just as in new drug development, researchers could target these or similar genes in other insects to create repellents that make crops and people "invisible" to insect antennae.

Without the ability to identify smells, insects are far less likely to attack a person or plant, as is the case with mosquitoes whose ability to smell lactic acid is disrupted by the active ingredient in insect repellents with DEET, the researchers say.

"The sense of smell is an Achilles heel for many insects," said Mark Johnston, editor-in-chief of the journal GENETICS, which published the research, "and the more we learn about odor receptors the easier it will be to interfere with them to battle insect-borne disease and crop devastation."

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