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Vanderbilt Research Aims At Repelling Mosquitoes

Posted at 7:10 PM, Jun 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-14 20:16:50-04

In the summer months, mosquitoes are a part of life in many parts of the United States and in Tennessee, but thanks to research conducted at Vanderbilt University, mosquito bites could become less common. 

Researchers have spent the past 15 years looking at different chemicals and molecules hoping they could find a molecule that would over-stimulate a mosquito's sense of smell, causing it to fly away.

"It's like getting on an elevator with someone who has put on way too much perfume. It's like turning up the TV way too loud," Dr. LJ Zwiebel, professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, said. "You leave the room, it's real simple." 

Zwiebel and other researchers tested nearly one million chemicals before finding a molecule that presented the results they were looking for.

"It's a completely new concept," Zwiebel explained. 

The researchers landed on one synthetic molecule, which is odorless to humans, named Vanderbilt University Allosteric Agonist Number 1 (VUAA1),

The molecule overloads a mosquito's sense of smell so much that it is 100,000 times more effective than DEET. 

"If you confine a mosquito into an area where it can't get away from this, it will just go crazy," Zwiebel said, adding that a reaction like this could keep mosquitoes from spreading diseases like the Zika Virus and Malaria. "We're just trying to push the mosquito away, go somewhere else, live a long life, but not near us." 

VUAA1 is currently undergoing tests to see if the molecule is toxic to humans, animals, and the environment. If VUAA1 is found to be non-toxic, it can be developed into a useable product. 

VUAA1 is unique in the fact that it doesn't just target mosquitoes, but all insects.

The hope is VUAA1 will be able to be made into a product that can be applied to the skin, worked into laundry detergent, and even mixed into paint, keeping mosquitoes and other insects away from yourself, your home, and other buildings, such as farms. 

Due to the success in finding VUAA1, researchers at Vanderbilt are now trying to discover a similar molecule that will target a mosquito's sense of taste, so if they land on a human treated with the molecule, they will have a sensory-overload and fly away before being able to bite the human. 

"We're trying to develop ways to use that information to keep mosquitoes from biting people," Zwiebel said.