Mosquito Feeding Habits May Alter Dengue Virus Transmission

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Like humans, mosquitoes help shape who their children will grow up to be, and those patterns show how well mosquitoes can later transmit dangerous viruses to humans, a new University of Florida study shows.

Researchers with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences used the yellow fever mosquito — known scientifically as Aedes aegypti — to see how the nutrition of parents influences their young. Scientists also wanted to know how those nutrition patterns influence the abilities of the infant mosquitoes to eventually grow up and become infected with viruses like Zika, dengue and chikungunya and later transmit them to humans. Such viruses can make people sick and in rare cases, kill them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Here we make a large advance in this area by determining how factors in the environment, such as nutrition and parental contributions, determine the inner workings of a mosquito,” said Barry Alto, an associate professor of entomology at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) in Vero Beach, Florida.

In the study, researchers produced adult mosquitoes from larvae that had low and high nutrient levels. Researchers then allowed the mosquitoes to mate with each other and rear their offspring in low- and high-nutrient conditions.

Scientists used several experimental manipulations to identify both maternal and paternal influence on offspring traits, including whether parental nutrition influences the children’s susceptibility to infection with dengue virus. The researchers identified both maternal and paternal effects with changes in development time of the offspring being most affected. Additionally, daughters were more susceptible to these effects than sons.

Mosquitoes from different nutrition treatments were all equally susceptibility to dengue virus infection, Alto said. The higher their chances of getting infected with dengue, the greater the odds the mosquito will transmit the virus to a human, scientists said.

“Another way to think about this research is to compare it to human biology,” Alto said. “We know that the environment we experience early in life, as children, shapes our traits as adults with important consequences. Additionally, we know that the environment experienced by our parents can also influence our development. Here we demonstrate this same phenomenon in mosquitoes.”

The yellow fever mosquito inhabits water-filled containers such as plastic jugs and tires during its immature stages. While living in such containers, larvae feed on microorganisms in the water, he said.

“The availability of nutrition in containers varies, and it has important consequences on traits of adults,” said Alto, who co-authored the paper with Kylie Zirbel, an entomology and nematology doctoral alumna from the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Like humans, mosquitoes that lack ample nutrients die more frequently, take longer to develop and grow to be smaller adults, Alto said.

The research by Zirbel and Alto is published in the journal Ecosphere.


By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303,

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.



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Posted: November 15, 2018

Category: UF/IFAS
Tags: Barry Alto, Dengue, Disease Transmission, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Kylie Zirbel, Mosquito Nutrition, News, Zika

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