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Scientists Study Sleep-Deprived Mosquitoes to Prevent the Spread of Deadly Diseases

Humans and mosquitoes are more alike than you may want to believe; new research suggests mosquitoes prefer sleep over food when sleep-deprived.

As we all know, mosquitoes can be deadly, carrying diseases like Zika, Dengue, and Malaria. These diseases can cause death upon adults and even young children. Since most mosquitoes are active at night, people place nets over their beds for protection. Researchers are interested in mosquito sleep cycles, as awareness of sleep cycles can help predict diseases.

The presence of food can rouse a relaxing mosquito. It can be difficult sometimes to tell when they are asleep because they look similar to when they are simply relaxed. To better understand it, scientists track their behavior. Mosquitoes that have a long rests are more likely to land on people than mosquitoes that barely get any sleep. Oluwasuen Ajayi was part of a research team on mosquitos from the University of Ohio-Cincinnati.

Ajayi’s team decided to focus on three different types of species that are well known to carry diseases. The first one is *Aedes aegypti*, active during the day time. *Culex pipiens* is the second one, it prefers to dine after dusk. The third one, carrying malaria, is the *Anopheles stephensi*, and likes to stay up at night. All these mosquitos were left alone in a small room, where the scientists used cameras and infrared sensors to spy on them.

After two hours, the mosquitoes started to doze off. Their abdomens started to lower to the ground and their hind legs drooped. They stopped moving for a long time. As the time went by, *C. pipiens* and *A. aegypti* showed less response than usual. When an experimenter walked into the room, the two species showed minimal response, indicating that when the species are in deep sleep it is less likely for them to respond to their food.

The mosquitos were then placed in a clear tube that vibrates every few minutes, which kept them awake. After four to 12 hours of this sleep deprivation, the team gave them a heated pad of fake sweat, mimicking the presence of a human. Mosquitoes that got a full night sleep were more likely to land on the pad than those deprived of sleep. After around eight tests, an average of 77 percent of the well-rested mosquitoes went for the blood while only 23 percent of those deprived of sleep did the same.

This research shows that understanding mosquitoes' sleep cycles can help prevent spreading diseases. If we are able to control how much mosquitoes sleep we can prevent them from spreading the disease.

[Sources: Science News for Students; Photo Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim]

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