"If you coat the arm with DEET," Vosshall said, "the mutants are still very enthusiastic about human skin. But once they land, they fly away."
That, she said, indicates that the "smell pathway" must be one important way by which DEET works. But it's not the only way: The repellant also has some type of action once the insects touch down on the skin, Vosshall said.
DEET has been widely used as an insect repellant for about 50 years, yet no one is sure exactly how it works, Vosshall noted.
Slotman said that based on this and past research, DEET appears to have "multiple modes of action."
According to the CDC, malaria alone infected 219 million people globally in 2010, killing 660,000 -- mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa.
A campaign to eradicate malaria worldwide was begun in the 1950s, but it failed -- in part because mosquitoes developed a resistance to the insecticides used to kill them.
Learn more about mosquitoes and malaria from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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