DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK, spring just got here. But for many people, it's already time to start thinking about summer, soaking in the sunshine, maybe trips to the beach, barbecues and in many parts of the country, mosquitoes. You feeling itchy yet? Here's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein with some new research on those little buggers.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: It's annoying enough when mosquitoes start buzzing around your ears, but it's downright crazy-making when they start biting you and nobody else around you. Ever wondered, why? Well, James Logan at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has, too.
JAMES LOGAN: We have sort of anecdotal evidence from people that you know members of their family might get bitten more than others. And that led us to believe that there might be some sort of hereditary component. So there might be a genetic link with how attractive you are to mosquitoes.
STEIN: To try to find out, Logan and his colleagues brought 37 pairs of twins into the lab to do a series of experiments to see if there was any difference between the identical twins, who have exactly the same genes, and non-identical twins, who have different genes, in terms of being mosquito magnets or not.
LOGAN: In one of the experiments, we would have one twin's hand in one side and the other twin's hand in the other side and we could measure whether the mosquitoes flew to one twin or the other.
STEIN: And they report what they found in this week's issue of the journal Plos One.
LOGAN: The attractiveness of the identical twins was very similar to each other and much greater than when we looked at non-identical twins. So in the non-identical twin case, we find that one twin was usually more attractive than the other, which suggests that the genes are controlling certainly a significant proportion of how attractive you are to mosquitoes.
STEIN: The next thing Logan wants to do is try to identify which genes exactly do this and how. He hopes that will lead to better ways to keep mosquitoes away.
LOGAN: What we might also be able to do further down the line is possibly develop a drug that you could take that would cause the body to upregulate the production of natural repellents and therefore minimize the need for putting topical repellents on the skin.
STEIN: That would be a huge development and not just for backyard barbecues. Richard Pollack is a public health entomologist at Harvard. He says mosquitoes spread lots of terrible diseases.
RICHARD POLLACK: The mosquito tested here, Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito, is the main transmitter of the yellow fever virus and the dengue viruses and yet some other infectious agents. So the more we learn about what causes a mosquito to find a person, the better we'll be able to design better strategies to protect people.
STEIN: But Logan and Pollack agree that's a ways off. So for now, we're stuck slathering on the Deet, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and running back inside when we just can't take it anymore. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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