Food by VICE

Chickens Could Be the Secret Weapon to Fighting Malaria

Chickens could be crucial in fighting one of the deadliest diseases facing humanity.

by Nick Rose
Jul 22 2016, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Kristina Savic

From wings to buckets of fried drumsticks to being stuffed with a beer can, chicken is one of the most versatile and beloved meats on the planet. In fact, we humans love their flesh so much that we stack factory farms with millions of them to assure no shortage of Double Downs and Chick-Fil-A.

Our blood-sucking, disease-spreading mosquito competitors, on the other hand, hate chicken and avoid them like the plague. And while this might seem like useless bit of insect trivia, this recent finding could actually have huge ramifications for the millions of humans who live under the deadly spectre of another kind of plague.

Last year, 400,000 people died of malaria in Africa, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes. While this is a dire health situation, new research from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia offers a glimmer of hope in humanity's fight against pesky, lethal mosquitoes.

READ MORE: This Poultry Company Has a Live Chicken Running Its Twitter Account

By collecting data from three Ethiopian villages where humans share their living quarters with livestock, researchers were able to home in on which species were the favourites of malaria-carrying An. arabiensis mosquitoes.

What they found was that mosquitoes tend to prefer human over animal blood when seeking hosts indoors. Outdoors, mosquitoes didn't really care though, feeding randomly on cattle, goats, and sheep. But the true revelation in this study was that both indoors and out, mosquitoes avoided chickens, which were abundant in both settings. They also successfully used compounds extracted from chicken feathers and living chickens suspended in cages to repel mosquitoes.

"We were surprised to find that malaria mosquitoes are repelled by the odors emitted by chickens," author Rickard Ignell said in a press statement. "This study shows for the first time that malaria mosquitoes actively avoid feeding on certain animal species, and that this behavior is regulated through odor cues."

And while the exact reason why mosquitoes avoid the smell of chickens remains unclear, the team behind this study, the practical implications of their findings are clear, especially since mosquitoes are beginning to develop resistance to insecticides.

"People in sub-Saharan Africa have suffered considerably under the burden of malaria over an extended period of time," Ignell said. "In our study, we have been able to identify a number of natural odour compounds which could repel host-seeking malaria mosquitoes and prevent them from getting in contact with people."

In other words, chickens are not just delicious and surprisingly good at running social media accounts; they could be crucial in fighting one of the deadliest diseases facing humanity.