This Cologne Makes Cows Smell Like Humans, So Mosquitos Bite Them Instead of Us

California company receives Gates Foundation grant to explore a unique kind of pest control

Moo-ve over mosquitos, your next bug spray may be cow cologne Marnie Burkhart/Corbis

When mosquitos bite humans, their pesky bites can transmit serious and potentially fatal diseases, like malaria. But when malaria-infected mosquitos bite cows, the cows don't get human malaria. And so a  California-based company called ISCA Technologies is creating a human-scented cologne for cows—with the idea that human-smelling cows will get bit by the bugs, instead of us poor humans.

This week, the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations initiative awarded the company a $100,000 grant to explore the technology. How does it work? A mildly-scented shampoo-y goo is sprayed onto a cow and makes the animals smell like humans from several weeks to months. If a cow is treated with insecticide, the mosquito also dies when it chomps into the cattle.

About 3.4 billion people are at risk for malaria, according to the World Health Organization, and current interventions include medication and insecticide-treated bed nets. Agenor Mafra-Neto, the chemical ecology researcher who founded ISCA Technologies, hopes to use the Gates grant to take the spray into the real world, testing animals in California and then Kenya this fall. He expects it to cost around one dollar per animal, though his company is working to reduce the overall cost so it can be used in places like sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where malaria is a pervasive problem.

The Malaria Lifecycle - Mosquito Stages

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