Evolution of sexual traits influencing vectorial capacity in anopheline mosquitoes

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Science  27 Feb 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6225, pp. 985-988
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259435

Mating plugs promote malaria parasites

Males of some of the malaria-transmitting mosquitoes “plug” females after copulation to stop interloping males from mating. The mating plug also delivers a steroid hormone into the female uterus. This hormone pulse promotes egg production and stimulates egg laying. It also curbs the mosquitoes' immune responses, which allows parasites such as malaria to develop unhindered. Mitchell et al. discovered that plugs are a recent evolutionary acquisition (see the Perspective by Alonzo). South American anopheline mosquitoes lack these plugs altogether, whereas African and Indian species have complex plugs replete with hormones. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the most elaborate mosquito plugs are also found in regions where malaria transmission rates are highest.

Science, this issue p. 985; see also p. 948


The availability of genome sequences from 16 anopheline species provides unprecedented opportunities to study the evolution of reproductive traits relevant for malaria transmission. In Anopheles gambiae, a likely candidate for sexual selection is male 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E). Sexual transfer of this steroid hormone as part of a mating plug dramatically changes female physiological processes intimately tied to vectorial capacity. By combining phenotypic studies with ancestral state reconstructions and phylogenetic analyses, we show that mating plug transfer and male 20E synthesis are both derived characters that have coevolved in anophelines, driving the adaptation of a female 20E-interacting protein that promotes oogenesis via mechanisms also favoring Plasmodium survival. Our data reveal coevolutionary dynamics of reproductive traits between the sexes likely to have shaped the ability of anophelines to transmit malaria.

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