Multiple blood feeding in mosquitoes shortens the Plasmodium falciparum incubation period and increases malaria transmission potential

PLoS Pathog. 2020 Dec 31;16(12):e1009131. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009131. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Many mosquito species, including the major malaria vector Anopheles gambiae, naturally undergo multiple reproductive cycles of blood feeding, egg development and egg laying in their lifespan. Such complex mosquito behavior is regularly overlooked when mosquitoes are experimentally infected with malaria parasites, limiting our ability to accurately describe potential effects on transmission. Here, we examine how Plasmodium falciparum development and transmission potential is impacted when infected mosquitoes feed an additional time. We measured P. falciparum oocyst size and performed sporozoite time course analyses to determine the parasite's extrinsic incubation period (EIP), i.e. the time required by parasites to reach infectious sporozoite stages, in An. gambiae females blood fed either once or twice. An additional blood feed at 3 days post infection drastically accelerates oocyst growth rates, causing earlier sporozoite accumulation in the salivary glands, thereby shortening the EIP (reduction of 2.3 ± 0.4 days). Moreover, parasite growth is further accelerated in transgenic mosquitoes with reduced reproductive capacity, which mimic genetic modifications currently proposed in population suppression gene drives. We incorporate our shortened EIP values into a measure of transmission potential, the basic reproduction number R0, and find the average R0 is higher (range: 10.1%-12.1% increase) across sub-Saharan Africa than when using traditional EIP measurements. These data suggest that malaria elimination may be substantially more challenging and that younger mosquitoes or those with reduced reproductive ability may provide a larger contribution to infection than currently believed. Our findings have profound implications for current and future mosquito control interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles / parasitology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Infectious Disease Incubation Period
  • Malaria, Falciparum / transmission*
  • Mosquito Vectors / parasitology*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development*