What do mosquitoes like more than clean human skin? Stinky socks. Scientists think the musky odour of human feet can be used to attract and kill mosquitoes that carry deadly malaria. The Gates Foundation has announced that it would help fund one such pungent project in Tanzania.
If they can be cheaply mass-produced, the traps could provide the first practical way of controlling malaria infections outside.
Dutch scientist Dr Bart Knols first discovered mosquitoes were attracted to foot odour by standing in a dark room naked and examining where he was bitten, said Dr Fredros Okumu, the head of the research project at Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute. But over the following 15 years, researchers struggled to put the knowledge to use.
Then Okumu discovered that the stinky smell – which he replicates using a careful blend of eight chemicals – attracts mosquitoes to a trap where they can be poisoned. The odour of human feet attracted four times as many mosquitoes as a human volunteer and the poison can kill up to 95% of mosquitoes, he said.
Although the global infection rate of malaria is falling, there are still more than 220-million new cases of malaria each year. The UN estimates almost 800 000 of those people die. Most of them are children in Africa.