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C6 Gene-for-gene interactions between anopheles mosquitoes and malaria parasites in Africa (Levashina)

Research Group: Vector Biology Unit, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology
Address: Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin
Supervisor: Elena A. Levashina, Ph.D.
Doctoral Researchers: Suzana Zakovic, Caroline Kiuru, Robin Benter

Project Description

State of the art:
Evolution shapes host-parasite interactions that affect the dynamics of disease transmission
and parasite virulence. Understanding these processes is crucial for predicting disease
outbreaks and can inform vector control programs. Earlier experimental studies proposed that
host genotype by parasite genotype interactions underlie the resistance of anopheline
mosquitoes to Plasmodium falciparum. However, very little is known about genetic
interactions between malaria mosquitoes and Plasmodium parasites in the field populations.

Previous own work:
Our previous studies uncovered generalist and specialist mosquito ecotypes that contribute to
the genetic structuring of mosquito populations across Africa. Interestingly, mosquito ecotypes,
defined by genetic polymorphism in one of the immune factors, did not distribute randomly.
Instead, while specialist species inhabited narrow ecological niches, generalist species were
found in all samples sites. To better understand how genetic structuring of mosquito drives
Plasmodium abundance, we performed dense time-series collections of A. gambiae adults in
Mali during two consecutive rainy seasons in two ecologically distinct sites where two mosquito
species breed in sympatry. Using econometric approaches, we demonstrated the power of
mosquito genetic structure in predicting Plasmodium abundance. However, whether the
structure of mosquito populations impacts genetic diversity of the endemic malaria parasites
is unknown. Currently, we examine the role of environmental microbiota in shaping the genetic
structure of mosquito populations in Africa

Hypotheses and work plan:
We propose that mosquito genetic makeup impacts genetic diversity of malaria parasites.
To explore this hypothesis, we will develop approaches for genotyping of P. falciparum
parasites in the collected mosquitoes. We will also perform short gun sequencing of the
genomes of infected mosquitoes to elucidate the genes that may be involved in gene-for-gene
interactions. Further mathematical approaches will be harnessed to understand the
microevolution between mosquito vectors and Plasmodium parasites.

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