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Microbial Communications and Mosquitoes: Changing the Message

Jul 09, 2015 10:54 PM EDT

Something with a name more complicated than Off! or citronella, quorum sensing, might help keep mosquitoes from biting us--both in backyard environments and in areas where dengue fever and other insect-borne dangers lurk.

Researchers from Texas A&M, the USDA, and Pennsylvania State University are looking at ways to manipulate microbial communication--or quorum sensing--on skin, according to a release.

That is, bacterial cells have a communications system, quorum sensing, that allows cells to communicate amongst each other for functions. It controls or prevents such processes as swarming or reproducing. The bacteria produce compounds that contain certain biochemical messages, the release said.

Dr. Jeff Tomberlin, the study leader, had found in previous research with blowflies that they, like mosquitoes, are influenced by several factors. Among other things, mosquitoes use chemoreceptors on their antennae to "listen in" to communications systems of microbes on our skin. They select a blood host based on the information received by the bacteria, the release said.

If the researchers can locate the right code that bacteria produce to signal unattractiveness, they could use this to keep mosquitoes from biting us, said the release.

Manipulating bacterial conversations could also be used to block communications between bacteria in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis, for instance-helping to reduce the pipeline corrosion that could be caused by microorganisms, said the release. 

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