The insect gut harbors a variety of microorganisms that probably exceed the number of cells in insects themselves. These microorganisms can live and multiply in the insect, contributing to digestion, nutrition, and development of their host.
Recent studies have shown that midgut bacteria appear to strengthen the mosquito's immune system and indirectly enhance protection from invading pathogens. Nevertheless, the physiological significance of these bacteria for mosquitoes has not been established to date. In this study, oral administration of antibiotics was employed in order to examine the contribution of gut bacteria to blood digestion and fecundity in Aedes aegypti.
The antibiotics carbenicillin, tetracycline, spectinomycin, gentamycin and kanamycin, were individually offered to female mosquitoes. Treatment of female mosquitoes with antibiotics affected the lysis of red blood cells (RBCs), retarded the digestion of blood proteins and reduced egg production. In addition, antibiotics did not affect the survival of mosquitoes. Mosquito fertility was restored in the second gonotrophic cycle after suspension of the antibiotic treatment, showing that the negative effects of antibiotics in blood digestion and egg production in the first gonotrophic cycle were reversible.
The reduction of bacteria affected RBC lysis, subsequently retarded protein digestion, deprived mosquito from essential nutrients and, finally, oocyte maturation was affected, resulting in the production of fewer viable eggs. These results indicate that Ae. aegypti and its midgut bacteria work in synergism to digest a blood meal.
Our findings open new possibilities to investigate Ae. aegypti-associated bacteria as targets for mosquito control strategies.