Transmission of malaria parasites occurs when a female Anopheles mosquito feeds on an infected host to acquire nutrients for egg development. How parasites are affected by oogenetic processes, principally orchestrated by the steroid hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), remains largely unknown. Here we show that Plasmodium falciparum development is intimately but not competitively linked to processes shaping Anopheles gambiae reproduction. We unveil a 20E-mediated positive correlation between egg and oocyst numbers; impairing oogenesis by multiple 20E manipulations decreases parasite intensities. These manipulations, however, accelerate Plasmodium growth rates, allowing sporozoites to become infectious sooner. Parasites exploit mosquito lipids for faster growth, but they do so without further affecting egg development. These results suggest that P. falciparum has adopted a non-competitive evolutionary strategy of resource exploitation to optimize transmission while minimizing fitness costs to its mosquito vector. Our findings have profound implications for currently proposed control strategies aimed at suppressing mosquito populations.
Keywords: 20E signaling; Anopheles-Plasmodium interactions; EIP; extrinsic incubation period; lipid transport; trade-offs.
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