Do mosquitoes favor certain blood types over others? I have noticed while out working that mosquitoes love me while my brother never gets bit. Why is my blood so tasty? -- Brian Q., Huntsville, Alabama
Sibling rivalry thing going on there, Brian? I've got good news for you. We still don't know why mom preferred your brother, but we're starting to home in on why mosquitoes prefer you.
A 1972 study in Nature found that mosquitoes were more likely to bite people with type O blood than other potential victims, while people with type A got the fewest bites. A follow-up experiment examined whether this had anything to do with the fact that some people secrete chemicals related to blood type -- sugarlike substances called saccharides -- through their skin. Results: (1) Generally speaking, skeeters favor people with type O blood over those with types A and B blood, confirming the earlier research. (2) They really favor type O secretors over type O nonsecretors and type A secretors. (3) They don't have a strong preference between type O secretors and type A non-secretors, a distracting result I'll ignore. Conclusion: to quote a favorite line from the Straight Dope Message Board, if you're a type O secretor, to a mosquito you look like caramel-covered crack.
Other studies have cast doubt on this phenomenon, claiming that factors such as sweatiness are more likely to influence victim selection. But a Japanese study from 2004 seems convincing. Researchers exposed 64 volunteers to a swarm of hungry female mosquitoes, each of which had had its proboscis -- the part it bites with -- amputated. (One can imagine the outraged e-mail this surely elicited from PETA.) Since the mosquitoes couldn't bite (and thus couldn't drink their fill), the researchers were able to compare how often they landed on the skin of different volunteers. They found type O secretors were twice as attractive to mosquitoes as type A secretors.
How do mosquitoes know about chemicals on your skin? Smell, probably. Mosquito repellents ranging from garlic to DEET seem to work by blocking their sense of smell.
Now for the grim part. Some research suggests being infected with malaria changes your body odor or breath to attract more of the mosquitoes who infected you in the first place. Does this mean type O secretors who travel to malarial parts of the world are doomed to help spread the illness? Not necessarily. A 1980 study by the World Health Organization showed Indian malaria victims were more likely to have type A blood than any other type. That's not because people with type A get bitten more, the researchers speculated, but rather because when they do get bitten, their type A blood makes them more likely to contract the disease.
I just read this interesting statistic: taller men have a higher incidence of melanoma than shorter men. What would account for this? Being a foot closer to the sun shouldn't be a big factor as far as UV radiation goes. Is it from standing in crowds, where the taller men get the sun and the shorter people get their shade? Are taller men balder and so get more sun on their heads? -- Nicki
Who knows? While some health issues are clearly connected to heigh -- banging your head on doorways, say -- melanoma (skin cancer) isn't one of them. The major risk factors are sun exposure and ethnic background, with Celtic types having red hair and freckles in greatest danger. However, a few studies claim to show a link between increased height and weight and skin cancer risk
But why? Maybe taller people spend more time outside playing sports, or just eat more as kids. (High calorie intake in childhood is thought to be a risk factor for some cancers.) Maybe it has something to do with hormones