London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Malaria Centre

New project on human attractiveness to malaria mosquitoes

06 November 2017
New MRC-funded project

A new MRC-funded project led by Professor James Logan has recently started at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to investigate the mechanisms of human attractiveness to Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes. The team, which includes Dr Julien Martinez and Catherine Oke at the School, will be building on previous work showing that people who are less attractive to mosquitoes have a specific body odour profile and produce volatile organic compounds that act as natural mosquito repellents. The team also demonstrated that such differences are partly controlled by people‚Äôs genetic background.

This new project is now going deeper into the genetic basis of attractiveness to mosquitoes. By recruiting volunteers from the TwinsUK database, the team will collect and characterise the body odours of 200 twins using gas-chromatography, mass-spectrometry and electoantennography techniques, as well as measure their attractiveness to mosquitoes in behavioural experiments. In collaboration with the University of Nottingham and St Georges, they will conduct an association study between attractiveness, body chemistry and genetic variants using the existing genome-wide polymorphism data of the participants. They will initially focus their effort on a set of candidate genes likely involved in the production of volatiles by the human body.

Following this first phase of the project, the team also intends to carry out a similar study on a natural host-vector system in a collaboration with the MRC Unit based in the Gambia. There the aim is to investigate potential interactions with Plasmodium falciparum infection, as the parasite has been shown to increase the attractiveness of infected people which is linked to an alteration of their odour profile.

This project will provide new insights into the host-vector-parasite interaction, and will reveal the mechanisms underlying the production of volatile compounds which could pave the way for novel approaches to control malaria.

Dr Julien Martinez, Research Fellow, julien [dot] martinez [at] lshtm [dot] ac [dot] uk
Prof James Logan, Senior Lecturer, james [dot] logan [at] lshtm [dot] ac [dot] uk