Vanderbilt University Researcher Finds Way to Attack Zika Virus

zika-Aedes-aegypti-mosquitoes

Vanderbilt University, a private research institute in Tennessee, might just be on the verge of a breakthrough.

One of its faculty members has found a way to attack the Zika virus. And he does this by stirring up the mosquitoes’ taste buds.

Carriers of the Zika Virus

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, carriers of the Zika virus, are sometimes called “tiger mosquitoes” because of the stripes on their bodies. And they are similarly fierce when it comes to going after their prey.

Laurence Zwiebel, Professor of Biological Sciences, says,

“These are the most dangerous animals on the planet… dengue virus, yellow fever virus, West Nile virus, Rift Valley virus…”

This species of mosquitoes has been responsible for many illnesses and diseases spreading across areas and crossing continents for over hundreds of years.

What makes these mosquitoes dangerous is that they bite all day.

They are also found in major urban areas, where open canals and dirty waterways serve as breeding grounds.

The symptoms of the Zika virus are also difficult to spot, so many people could be affected and could spread the disease without even knowing.

The virus has already affected millions of people in Brazil. Medical experts say that the mosquitoes will soon find their way all over the Americas, including the United States.

While most cases of Zika virus in the country are a result of traveling, there is still a need for caution and prevention since there is no known cure for this disease, which can cause birth defects like microcephaly.

This is why Vanderbilt University researchers are doubling their efforts in finding solutions to overpower the virus itself.

Taste Buds

“When a mosquito lands on you, she tastes you with her feet,” Zwiebel says. “She has taste receptors on her feet and then she’s tasting your skin.”

The key, according to the scientist, is to “over-stimulate” their senses.

“What we’re gonna do is take the taste receptors from the mosquito, and then test those cells against 300,000 unique chemicals to see which chemicals make these receptors go crazy. So then, you don’t taste good to her. She’ll land on you, then fly away without biting you.”

It sounds like a good plan. Ingredients in the sweat and skin of a person can attract a mosquito.

The VU researchers are creating a way which will prevent them from even taking a bite.

In order to prevent the virus from infecting anyone, chemicals could just be used to drive away the mosquitoes. Many people would think repellents like citronella are enough to protect them from mosquito bites, but Joseph M. Conlon disagrees.

A retired US Navy entomologist and a technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association, Conlon says that citronella is a weak repellent, and that:

“There really isn’t any evolutionary pressure to produce a (natural) repellent for humans. We are just another protein source on this planet.”

The best option for people to protect themselves is to use repellents that are registered and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, and are those that contain DEET, which works as a scent-masker, making it difficult for mosquitoes to smell someone.

Zweibel’s research has the potential to be a game changer, but people will have to wait for the results.

The scientist says that people can expect a working prototype in two years. In the mean time, everyone has to be extra vigilant about mosquito bites.

Rob Clark
 

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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