Adult female Aedes aegypti (L.), the vector of dengue and yellow fever viruses, have an affinity for feeding on human blood and a tendency to forego feeding on sugar. This observation challenges two tenets of mosquito biology: (1) mosquitoes imbibe plant carbohydrates for synthesis of energy reserves and blood for reproduction and (2) egg production is reduced when mosquitoes feed on human blood compared with blood from other species. Sub-optimal amounts of the amino acid isoleucine in human blood (particularly free isoleucine in plasma) are thought to be responsible for lowered egg production when human blood is ingested. We tested the hypothesis that feeding on human blood is associated with a selective advantage for Ae. aegypti and is an underlying reason for this mosquito’s intimate and epidemiologically important relationship with human beings. Our five experiments examined the effects of different isoleucine concentrations on accumulated energy reserves, frequency of host contact, survival, and egg production. When mosquitoes imbibed blood meals over a 7- to 10-d period and were not fed sugar, increased isoleucine concentration decreased energy reserves and did not increase egg production. Aedes aegypti took smaller but more frequent blood meals when feeding on a low-isoleucine human host daily compared with a high-isoleucine mouse host. Previous reports that isoleucine enhances egg production were confirmed only when females were fed sugar, an unusual behavior for most domestic Ae. aegypti populations. Females fed human blood and water had greater age-specific survival (lx), reproductive output (mx), and cumulative net replacement (R0) than cohorts fed human blood plus sugar or isoleucine-rich mouse blood with or without access to sugar. The unique isoleucine concentration of human blood is associated with Ae. aegypti’s unusual propensity to feed preferentially and frequently on humans—a behavior that increases this mosquito’s fitness, synthesis of energy reserves, and contact with human hosts, making it an especially effective disseminator of human pathogens.
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