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David Bradley ISSUE #38
June 2004

Chemical Mask Deters Mosquitoes

If you are one of those people who suffer a multitude of insect bites when others seem to swat them away without a care, you can no longer claim that it is the sweeter-smell of your blood compared with theirs.

   Biting midge, the blight of otherwise happy campers

Biting midge, the blight of
otherwise happy campers

According to graduate student James Logan, who works in the Biological Chemistry Division of Rothamsted Research, and post-doctoral researcher Nicola Seal who works with Professor Jennifer Mordue Luntz of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, you may lack a chemical, or blend of chemicals, instead. The chemical mix acts as a mask, hiding the attractiveness of a person to midges and other biting insects. The team reported their results at the annual Society of Experimental Biology (SEB) meeting in Edinburgh in April.

Nicola Seal and James Logan hunting midges!  
Nicola Seal and James Logan hunting midges!

"It is unlikely to be one specific chemical, more likely a blend of compounds," Seal told Reactive Reports, "Logan has now identified some chemicals which could be producing this 'host-masking effect'." The compounds will soon be exploited in a novel insect repellent, that is safe and odorless to humans.

Seal studies the behavior of the biting midge, the nemesis of many an otherwise happy Scottish camper. Using the natural masking agents could be a more effective deterrent than the well-known topical insect repellent N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) as the compounds involved relate to natural host selection rather than being the products of chemical screening.