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Twins experiment reveals genetic link with mosquito bites

Genetic mechanisms may be linked to human attractiveness to mosquito bites


The likelihood of being bitten by mosquitoes could be linked to our genes, according to a study carried out on twins published April 22, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Fernández-Grandon from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and colleagues.

Previous studies have suggested that human attractiveness to insects is based on differences in body odor or diet; however, there is no clear and consistent dietary explanation. Body odor can be controlled genetically, so the authors of this study explored whether this difference may have an underlying genetic component. The scientists conducted a series of trials using identical and non-identical female twins, where dengue mosquitoes were released into a Y-shaped tube that divided into two sections. Mosquitoes were allowed to fly down either side toward the odor of their choice, coming from participants' hands, to see which twin they were most attracted to.

The results showed that identical twin pairs were more similar in attractiveness to mosquitoes than non-identical twin pairs. The level of heritability of the trait, or extent to which genes may play a part, was found to be at a similar level (0.83) for mosquito attractiveness as that associated with height (0.8) and IQ (0.5-0.8). The authors suggest that this pilot study may provide insight into how our relationship with mosquitoes has evolved, and may ultimately aid in the development of better ways to control mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit.

Senior author Dr. James Logan said: "By investigating the genetic mechanism behind attractiveness to biting insects such as mosquitoes, we can move closer to using this knowledge to develop better ways of keeping us safe from bites and the diseases insects can spread through bites."


Adapted by PLOS ONE from release provided by the author

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Citation: Fernández-Grandon GM, Gezan SA, Armour JAL, Pickett JA, Logan JG (2015) Heritability of Attractiveness to Mosquitoes. PLoS ONE 10(4):e0122716. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122716

Funding: This study was funded by Sir Halley Stewart Trust. Rothamsted Research receives grantaided support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) of the UK. TwinsUK is funded by the Wellcome Trust, European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) and also receives support from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)-funded BioResource, Clinical Research Facility and Biomedical Research Centre based at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with King's College London. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist

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