Those pesky mosquitoes snacking on your arms and legs aren’t only out for blood. Like most other creatures, they have a favorite food. In their case, it’s sweet, succulent flower nectar. Mosquitoes don’t pollinate flowers as other insects do. After sniffing out a floral fragrance, they track down the plant and steal its nectar for energy. That weakness for nectar, however, could be their kryptonite. Using flower scents created in a lab, a team of researchers at Ohio State University plans to lure mosquitoes into traps. The objective: Kill the pests that carry life-threatening diseases, including West Nile Virus and malaria.
The first step was building a machine, called an olfactometer, to detect and measure odor. That started in 2006. The team began analyzing plant chemicals in 2008 and got to the tests two years later. The experiment was simple: Give a mosquito two options and see which one it chooses. The research team plans to take its study into the field soon, but the venture won’t be without its challenges. For example, synthetic scents might not be as effective as the real thing outside the lab. They hope someday to expand the study and identify scents that would attract a host of mosquitoes around the world, particularly those that transmit malaria in African countries, where a child dies every minute from the disease, according to the World Health Organization.