In a cool new finding, Kelly and colleagues recently reported that malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, produce volatile compounds in blood that are attractive to mosquitoes. These sweet smelling volatiles are similar to terpenes produced by plants. The evolutionary origin of these compounds is intriguing to consider. Are they attractive to mosquitoes because of their similarity to plant compounds that provide a source of food for Anopheles and other mosquitoes. (In fact, male Anopheles mosquitoes feed exclusively on plant and nectar). Do parasites hijack the sensory apparatus of mosquitoes with these redolent products? Or, do mosquitoes find these smells attractive because they are less likely to be swatted by a malaria infected host? Time, and additional experimentation, will tell.
Read the open access paper in mBio here:
Also: Mosquitoes are more likely to seek out human blood after infection with Plasmodium. Another example of hijacking of host neural machinery? Or something more mutually beneficial?