Microbial Composition in Larval Water Enhances Aedes aegypti Development but Reduces Transmissibility of Zika Virus

William Louie, Lark L. Coffey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arthropod-borne viruses comprise a significant global disease burden. Surveillance and mitigation of arboviruses like Zika virus (ZIKV) require accurate estimates of transmissibility by vector mosquitoes. Although Aedes species mosquitoes are established as competent ZIKV vectors, differences in experimental protocols across studies prevent direct comparisons of relative transmissibility. An understudied factor complicating these comparisons is differential environmental microbiota exposures, where most vector competence studies use mosquitoes reared in laboratory tap water, which does not represent the microbial complexity of environmental water where wild larvae develop. We simulated natural larval development by rearing Californian Aedes aegypti larvae with microbes obtained from cemetery headstone water compared to conventional tap water. A. aegypti larvae reared in environmental cemetery water pupated 3 days faster and at higher rates. Mosquitoes reared in environmental water were less competent vectors of ZIKV than laboratory water-reared A. aegypti, as evidenced by significantly reduced infection and transmission rates. Microbiome comparisons of laboratory water- and environment water-reared mosquitoes and their rearing water showed significantly higher bacterial diversity in environment water. Despite this pattern, corresponding differences in bacterial diversity were not consistently observed between the respective adult mosquitoes. We also observed that the microbial compositions of adult mosquitoes differed more by whether they ingested a bloodmeal than by larval water type. Together, these results highlight the role of transient microbes in the larval environment in modulating A. aegypti vector competence for ZIKV. Laboratory vector competence likely overestimates the true transmissibility of arboviruses like ZIKV when conventional laboratory water is used for rearing. IMPORTANCE We observed that A. aegypti mosquitoes reared in water from cemetery headstones instead of the laboratory tap exhibited a reduced capacity to become infected with and transmit Zika virus. Water from the environment contained more bacterial species than tap water, but these bacteria were not consistently detected in adult mosquitoes. Our results suggest that rearing mosquito larvae in water collected from local environments as opposed to laboratory tap water, as is conventional, could provide a more realistic assessment of ZIKV vector competence since it better recapitulates the natural environment in which larvae develop. Given that laboratory vector competence is used to define the species to target for control, the use of environmental water to rear larvae could better approximate the microbial exposures of wild mosquitoes, lessening the potential for overestimating ZIKV transmission risk. These studies raise the question of whether rearing larvae in natural water sources also reduces vector competence for other mosquito-borne viruses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Aedes aegypti
  • Arbovirus
  • Microbiome
  • Mosquito
  • Susceptibility
  • Transmission
  • Vector competence
  • Zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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