mosquitos

Emily Dennis has spent hours, if not days, watching mosquitoes buzz around her bare, outstretched arm. Carefully, she's observed the insects land, stab their mouthparts through her skin and feed.

But if her arm is slathered with DEET — shorthand for the chemical N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, the active ingredient in many insect repellents — mosquitoes stay away.

Mosquitoes searching for a meal of blood use a variety of clues to track down humans, including our body heat and the carbon dioxide in our breath. Now, research shows that a certain olfactory receptor in their antennae also serves as a detector of humans, responding to smelly chemicals in our sweat.

Scientists have launched a major new phase in the testing of a controversial genetically modified organism: a mosquito designed to quickly spread a genetic mutation lethal to its own species, NPR has learned.

For the first time, researchers have begun large-scale releases of the engineered insects, into a high-security laboratory in Terni, Italy.

"This will really be a breakthrough experiment," says Ruth Mueller, an entomologist who runs the lab. "It's a historic moment."

The sunlight coming through the picture window of Debbie Casey’s room at a nursing home in Daytona Beach falls on a message board covered with pictures from her life. 

Tiny, pesky and deadly, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are super at spreading disease, including dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus. Yet all over the world, scientists, nonprofits and biotech companies are raising hordes of this species to release into the wild.

Why is that?

For decades people have relied on industrial pesticides to beat back mosquito populations and limit the diseases they spread. But with continued use, some pesticides lose their effectiveness as the bugs build up resistance.

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As the rainy season returns — along with the disease-carrying mosquitoes that reproduce in standing water — the public is getting another chance to comment on one proposed method for fighting mosquitoes.

Amanda Rabines / WLRN News

Mosquito season has officially arrived in Florida, although many would argue it never left.

That perception may soon become reality, according to new studies that show the higher temperatures brought on by climate change are already increasing the range and biting season for many mosquitoes, including the Aedes aegypti — the infamous carriers of viruses like dengue and Zika, which hit Miami hard enough in 2016 to scare off many tourists.

Mosquitoes are a year-round downside to living in subtropical Miami, but millions of bacteria-infected mosquitoes flying in a suburban neighborhood are being hailed as an innovation that may kill off more bugs that spread Zika and other viruses.

Thousands of bacteria-infected mosquitoes will be flying near Miami to test a new way to suppress insect populations that carry Zika and other viruses.

Human skin is a cornucopia of fragrances.

The bacteria living on our skin emit more than 200 odor chemicals.

"Many of these molecules smell quite pleasant," says biologist Jeff Riffell at the University of Washington. "They smell grassy or a little bit like mushrooms. Some human scents are the same ones found in flowers."

Other chemicals — well — they aren't so nice. "They're pretty funky," Riffell says, like an overripe Brie cheese or a musty basement.

Logan Riely / Miami Herald