House flies disseminate numerous species of bacteria acquired during feeding and breeding activities in microbe-rich habitats. Previous house fly surveys have detected the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus Rosenbach 1884, which causes cutaneous and septic infections in mammals, and enterotoxic food poisoning. We assessed the fate of GFP-expressing S. aureus (GFP-S. aureus) in the house fly alimentary canal with microscopy and by culture of whole flies and excreta. Furthermore, the concurrent expression of the antimicrobial peptide gene defensin was measured in the crop, proventriculus, midgut, and fat body. As soon as 4 h postingestion (PI), GFP-S. aureus were visualized as cocci or diplococci in the hindgut and rectum of flies fed ≈105 colony forming units. Bacteria persisted up to 6 h PI but significantly decreased. Excretion of viable GFP-S. aureus peaked at 2 h PI and, although significantly less, continued up to 4 h PI. defensin was highly upregulated locally in the alimentary canal and systemically in fat body at 2, 4, and 6 h PI making this study the first to report, to our knowledge, an epithelial and systemic response to a bacterium with lysine-type peptidoglycan in flies exposed via feeding. While flies harbored S. aureus for up to 6 h PI, the highest probability of vectoring biologically relevant amounts of bacteria occurred 0–2 h PI. The combined effects of excretion, digestion and antimicrobial effectors likely contribute to loss of ingested bacteria. Nonetheless, house flies are relevant vectors for S. aureus up to 2 h PI and environmental reservoirs up to 6 h PI.
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Vol. 50 • No. 1