Researchers have figured out why malaria mosquitoes prefer to feed — and feed more — on blood from people infected with malaria.
“The malaria parasite produces a molecule, HMBPP, which stimulates the human red blood cells to release more carbon dioxide and volatile compounds with an irresistible smell to malaria mosquitoes,” explained one of the researchers, Ingrid Faye from Stockholm University in Sweden.
The researchers believe that the findings, published in the journal Science, can lead to new ways to fight malaria without using poisonous chemicals.
Most malaria mosquitoes were attracted by HMBPP-blood, even at very low concentrations, the study showed.
The mosquitoes also drink more blood from malaria patients and thus they acquire a more severe malaria infection — that is higher numbers of parasites are produced.
This indicates that the extra nutrients from the larger meal of blood are used to produce more parasites.
Neither humans nor mosquitoes use HMBPP themselves, but the parasite needs the substance to be able to grow.
“HMBPP is a way for the malaria parasite to hail a cab, a mosquito, and successfully transfer to the next host,” Noushin Emami from the Stockholm University said.
These results may be useful in combatting malaria. They suggest that a major step forward in the fight against malaria could be to create a trap that uses the parasite’s own system for attracting malaria mosquitoes.