Preference for one host species over others, or specialization, has been recognized as a key component of a mosquito’s capacity to transmit disease for more than five decades. Whereas opportunistic host-feeding patterns can lead to pathogen spillover from non-human into human hosts, specialist mosquitoes transmit pathogens very efficiently between individuals of their preferred host species. Feeding patterns are derived from mosquito sensation and response to a variety of factors: host odors, CO2, warmth, humidity, visual cues, and even features of the environment. Yet the causal neurogenetic mechanisms that underlie sensation, recognition and response to host-specific cues remain largely undiscovered. Our research quantified the extent of variation in host preference within and between two distinct biological forms of Culex pipiens mosquitoes, which were previously described as having divergent host preferences. Using an RNA sequencing approach which targeted the heads of behaviorally divergent females, we identified multiple differentially expressed genes involved in chemosensation and visual perception. Preliminary electroantennography work demonstrated that we are capable of generating Culex pipiens electrophysiological data in response to multiple odor stimuli. Data generated from this project (genomic and electrophysiological) have positioned us well to use reverse genetics approaches in future studies. These studies will aim to identify gene expression changes that are necessary and sufficient for modifying electrophysiological and behavioral responses to host cues.

Key Outcome


Megan Fritz

Assistant Professor
301-405-3945 | mfritz13@umd.edu

Quentin Gaudry

Associate Professor
301-405-9451 | qgaudry@umd.edu

Carlos Machado

301-405-9447 | machado@umd.edu