Despite its epidemiological importance, the time Plasmodium parasites take to achieve development in the vector mosquito (the extrinsic incubation period, EIP) remains poorly characterized. A novel non-destructive assay designed to estimate EIP in single mosquitoes, and more broadly to study Plasmodium–Anopheles vectors interactions, is presented. The assay uses small pieces of cotton wool soaked in sugar solution to collect malaria sporozoites from individual mosquitoes during sugar feeding to monitor infection status over time. This technique has been tested across four natural malaria mosquito species of Africa and Asia, infected with Plasmodium falciparum (six field isolates from gametocyte-infected patients in Burkina Faso and the NF54 strain) and across a range of temperatures relevant to malaria transmission in field conditions. Monitoring individual infectious mosquitoes was feasible. The estimated median EIP of P. falciparum at 27 °C was 11 to 14 days depending on mosquito species and parasite isolate. Long-term individual tracking revealed that sporozoites transfer onto cotton wool can occur at least until day 40 post-infection. Short individual EIP were associated with short mosquito lifespan. Correlations between mosquito/parasite traits often reveal trade-offs and constraints and have important implications for understanding the evolution of parasite transmission strategies.
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