- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

NAIROBI, KENYA Scientists say one funky odor that makes most humans recoil - the pungent smell of old gym socks - is irresistible to mosquitoes.

Donors announced funding Wednesday that would channel the smell of stinky feet into a weapon against malaria.

Traps scented with the odor of human feet attracted four times as many mosquitoes as a human volunteer, said Fredros Okumu, the head of the research project at Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute. Mosquitoes that fly into the trap are poisoned.

Bed nets and indoor spraying have substantially reduced the number of fatal malaria cases, but scientists have not come up with a good way to combat mosquitoes outdoors.

Although the global infection rate of malaria is declining, more than 220 million cases are diagnosed each year. The United Nations said almost 800,000 of those people die. Most of them are children in Africa.

“The global goal of eradication of malaria will not be possible without new technologies,” said Mr. Okumu, who has been ill with the disease several times.

Dutch scientist Bart Knols discovered that mosquitoes were attracted to foot odor by standing in a dark room naked and examining where he was bitten, Mr. Okumu said. Over the subsequent 15 years, researchers struggled to put the knowledge to use.

Mr. Okumu has been working on his project to trap mosquitoes for two years. He mixed eight chemical compounds to find the perfect odor and then experimented with poisons to find one that could kill up to 95 percent of mosquitoes.

Now Mr. Okumu, who received an initial grant of $100,000 to help his research two years ago, has been awarded an additional $775,000 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada to create an affordable mosquito trap that could be used outside homes.

Mr. Okumu said more research is needed to find the right places to put the traps. Placed too close, they would attract mosquitoes near the humans and expose them to greater risk of bites, but the devices would be ineffective if too far away.

The current traps are expensive prototypes, but Mr. Okumu hopes to produce traps that can be sold for $4 to $27.

“It’s African innovation for an African problem being developed in Africa,” said Peter A. Singer, the head of Grand Challenges Canada.

“It’s bold. It’s innovative, and it has the potential for big impact,” he said.

“Who would have thought that a lifesaving technology was lurking in your laundry basket?”

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