Allergies and insect bites concept. Person scratches her legs, which is itchy from a mosquito bite. Close up. Summer garden on the background.
Why Mosquitoes Like to Feast on You:
It’s Your Skin Microbiome
By Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
Scientific Director, Essential Formulas
Have you ever wondered why mosquitoes like you so much? Mosquitoes seem to be more attracted to some people than others. Our ever-expanding knowledge of the microbiome, probiotics and postbiotic metabolites is providing some interesting answers.
The bacteria on your skin determine how attractive you are to mosquitoes which means mosquitoes selectively target people based on their skin microbiome. Your skin microbiome refers to the bacteria that naturally reside in or on the human body. Our skin alone is home to over 1000 different species of bacteria. After puberty, the composition of our individual microbiome tends to stay relatively constant, even with continuous exposure to new bacteria in the surrounding environment.
Bacteria in the skin microbiome produce volatile postbiotic metabolites. These compounds, which are emitted into the air, are what attract a mosquito to an individual and determine a mosquito’s blood-host preference.i
Researchers identified individual bacteria species on people’s skin using species-specific RNA sequences, like using fingerprints to identify individual humans. Once the bacteria in a person’s skin microbiome had been determined, researchers found that the presence and abundance of certain species of bacteria correlated with a person’s attractiveness to mosquitoes. Interestingly, the combination of volatiles that are considered ‘attractive’ may differ based on the species of mosquito.
The skin is the largest organ in the human body and functions as a first line of defense by protecting against invading pathogens. Recent advances in genomic sequencing technologies have revealed that complex communities of bacteria reside in different areas on our bodies and scientists estimate that single square centimeter of your skin can contain up to one billion microorganisms.
Some skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis, are associated with an altered or unbalanced skin microbiome, which is referred to as skin dysbiosis. Current research is examining how specific probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotic metabolites may be used to treat skin diseases and promote skin health.
Although scientists have made progress discovering why the skin microbiome of some people seem to attract mosquitoes more than others, unfortunately there are not, at this time, any recommended solutions to the mosquito-attraction problem.
i Takken W and Verhulst NO. Chemical signaling in mosquito-host interactions: the role of human skin microbiota. Curr Opin Insect Sci. 2017 Apr;20:68-74.