A Field Study in Benin to Investigate the Role of Mosquitoes and Other Flying Insects in the Ecology of Mycobacterium ulcerans
Mycobacterium ulcerans is the causative agent of Buruli ulcer, a severe necrotizing skin disease that causes significant morbidity in Africa and Australia. Person-to-person transmission of Buruli ulcer is rare. Throughout Africa and Australia infection is associated with residence near slow-moving or stagnant water bodies. Although M. ulcerans DNA has been detected in over 30 taxa of invertebrates, fish, water filtrate, and plant materials and one environmental isolate cultured from a water strider (Gerridae), the invertebrate taxa identified are not adapted to feed on humans, and the mode of transmission for Buruli ulcer remains an enigma. Recent epidemiological reports from Australia describing the presence of M. ulcerans DNA in adult mosquitoes have led to the hypothesis that mosquitoes play an important role in the transmission of M. ulcerans. In this study we have investigated the potential of mosquitoes to serve as biological or mechanical vectors or as environmental reservoirs for M. ulcerans. Here we show that Aedes aegypti, A. albopictus, Ochlerotatus triseriatus, and Culex restuans larvae readily ingest wild-type M. ulcerans, isogenic toxin-negative mutants, and Mycobacterium marinum isolates and remain infected throughout larval development. However, the infections are not carried over into the pupae or adult mosquitoes, suggesting an unlikely role for mosquitoes as biological vectors. By following M. ulcerans through a food chain consisting of primary (mosquito larvae), secondary (predatory mosquito larva from Toxorhynchites rutilus septentrionalis), and tertiary (Belostoma species) consumers, we have shown that M. ulcerans can be productively maintained in an aquatic food web.