News - October 4, 2007

Wanted: males with sweaty feet

Researchers letting themselves be bitten by mosquitoes to find out what attracts malaria mosquitoes seem to be a thing of the past. And if lots of students sign up to help Niels Verhulst with his project for the Laboratory of Entomology, even the researchers in Africa will no longer have to walk around in shorts to find out how many malaria mosquitoes there are in an area. A mosquito trap containing the smell of your feet will do all the work.

What is required? ‘We would prefer you not to consume alcohol or garlic in the 24 hours before,’ says Verhulst. ‘And if you’ve just taken a shower you’ll be less attractive to mosquitoes, so it’s better not to wash your feet. People get a kind of container with six marbles, which they roll over their feet for ten minutes. The marbles are used to test whether the mosquitoes find you attractive,’ explains Verhulst. Then he looks at which smells come from the feet. ‘Participants have to keep their feet in a bag while we pump air through it for an hour and a half. We then analyse the air.’

Verhulst urgently needs people who are prepared to help him with his research. But volunteers must be male. ‘Women smell different during or after menstruation.’ Unlike food tests, there is no financial compensation for helping the entomologist. ‘We hope that students will be motivated by knowing that the study is helping the fight against malaria.’