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The impact of low erythrocyte density in human blood on the fitness and energetic reserves of the African malaria vector Anopheles gambiae

S Noushin Emami12*, Lisa C Ranford-Cartwright1 and Heather M Ferguson2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Sir Graeme Davies Building, 120 University Place, Glasgow, G12 8TA, UK

2 Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK

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Malaria Journal 2013, 12:45  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-45

Published: 1 February 2013



Anaemia is a common health problem in the developing world. This condition is characterized by a reduction in erythrocyte density, primarily from malnutrition and/or infectious diseases such as malaria. As red blood cells are the primary source of protein for haematophagous mosquitoes, any reduction could impede the ability of mosquito vectors to transmit malaria by influencing their fitness or that of the parasites they transmit. The aim of this study was to determine the impact of differences in the density of red blood cells in human blood on malaria vector (Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto) fitness. The hypotheses tested are that mosquito vector energetic reserves and fitness are negatively influenced by reductions in the red cell density of host human blood meals commensurate with those expected from severe anaemia.


Mosquitoes (An. gambiae s.s.) were offered blood meals of different packed cell volume (PCV) of human blood consistent with those arising from severe anaemia (15%) and normal PCV (50%). Associations between mosquito energetic reserves (lipid, glucose and glycogen) and fitness measures (reproduction and survival) and blood meal PCV were investigated.


The amount of protein that malaria vectors acquired from blood feeding (indexed by haematin excretion) was significantly reduced at low blood PCV. However, mosquitoes feeding on blood of low PCV had the same oviposition rates as those feeding on blood of normal PCV, and showed an increase in egg production of around 15%. The long-term survival of An. gambiae s.s was reduced after feeding on low PCV blood, but PCV had no significant impact on the proportion of mosquitoes surviving through the minimal period required to develop and transmit malaria parasites (estimated as 14 days post-blood feeding). The impact of blood PCV on the energetic reserves of mosquitoes was relatively minor.


These results suggest that feeding on human hosts whose PCV has been depleted due to severe anaemia does not significantly reduce the fitness or transmission potential of malaria vectors, and indicates that mosquitoes may be able exploit resources for reproduction more efficiently from blood of low rather than normal PCV.

Malaria; Anopheles gambiae; Mosquito vector; Erythrocyte density; Fitness; Energetic reserves