Mosquitoes love sugar – so much so that can delay their search for our blood. Now, their sweet tooth may have revealed an important genetic weapon against the spread of mosquito-borne disease.
The teasing temptation of a sugary treat can often get the better of us. But don’t worry, we’re not the only ones. The saccharine substance that our sweet tooth finds so hard to resist is also powerfully seductive to mosquitoes. And according to new research, in helping to keep the pests away from our blood-rich body parts, sugar may for once be good for our health.
But don’t start mixing up any sugar water just yet – or you might end up doing as much harm as good.
We’ve long understood that sugar is an important energy source for mosquitoes. In fact, it’s actually better than blood in terms of fuelling flight and basic survival processes. Only female mosquitoes feed on blood, as it provides essential nutrients needed to make their eggs.
Of course, this thirst for blood generates a terrible disease burden globally, often in the countries least well equipped to cope. Amid the hundreds of scientists across the world working to reduce the menace of mosquitoes, one promising avenue is investigating how their desires for sugar and blood interact.
The new research, published in Plos Biology, set about investigating exactly this. It focused on the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), an invasive species that has infiltrated every continent, closely associates with humans, and is very difficult to suppress, making it a particularly dangerous transmitter of diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and Zika virus.
The research team found that feeding young tiger mosquitoes sugar solutions caused a physiological response similar to that after feeding on blood. Importantly, it then delayed their search for the red velvet blood of a human host.