Lindy McBride: Synthetic blends for manipulation of mosquito behavior

Aug. 30, 2022

A specific blend of chemicals mimics the distinct human odor that attracts mosquitoes, suggesting a method for luring mosquitoes into lethal traps.

In some regions, the mosquitoes that carry Zika, dengue and yellow fever have evolved to bite humans almost exclusively.

Human odor is composed of dozens of different compounds, and those same compounds are present in most mammal odors, but in slightly different ratios. None of those compounds is attractive to mosquitoes by itself, and the goal of the initial research was to determine the exact blend of components — and by extension the exact combination of neural signals — that mosquitoes use to recognize human odor.

The neural mechanism these mosquitoes use to recognize human odor is unexpectedly simple. Mosquitos have two nerve centers that respond strongly to human odor at moderate concentrations, and only one of these responds to human odor but not animal odor.

The team further found that two chemicals, decanal and undecanal, are enriched in human odor and activate human-specific neurons. The researchers have patented a blend featuring decanal that could lead to the development of baits that attract dengue- and Zika-carrying mosquitoes to lethal traps.

Additional testing would need to be done to confirm that this blend of compounds is effective in real-world scenarios, and the research team does not currently plan on moving forward with that research. Instead, the team hopes that their discovery will plant a seed for other researchers to develop and test effective mosquito attractants.

“Despite the complexity of human odor, mosquitoes have evolved a surprisingly simple mechanism for recognizing us.” — Lindy McBride


Co-inventor: Zhilei Zhao, Ph.D. ’21

Stephan Thiberge, Director, Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics, Princeton Neuroscience Institute; Annika Hinz and Rickard Ignell, Swedish University of Agricultural Science; Martin Strauch, RWTH Aachen University

Team Members:
Graduate students Jessica Zung, Princeton University; Alexis Kriete, North Carolina State University; Azwad Iqbal, Cornell University

Development status:
Patent pending. Princeton is seeking outside interest for the development of this technology.

National Institutes of Health, New York Stem Cell Foundation.

Learn more:
[email protected]

Licensing contact:
Prabhpreet Gill
Technology Licensing Associate
[email protected]