While sexual dimorphism in courtship and copulation behavior is common in the animal kingdom, sexual dimorphism in feeding behavior is rare. The Aedes aegypti mosquito provides an example of extreme sexual dimorphism in feeding, because only the females show strong attraction to humans, and bite them to obtain a blood-meal necessary to stimulate egg production. The genetic basis of this complex, modular, and sexually dimorphic feeding behavior is unknown. The fruitless gene is sex-specifically spliced in the brain of multiple insect species including mosquitoes and encodes a BTB zinc-finger transcription factor that has been proposed to be a master regulator of male courtship and mating behavior across insects. Here we use CRISPR-Cas9 to mutate the fruitless gene in male mosquitoes. fruitless mutant males fail to mate, confirming the ancestral function of this gene in male sexual behavior. Remarkably, fruitless mutant males also gain strong attraction to a live human host, a behavior that wild-type males never display. Humans produce multiple sensory cues that attract mosquitoes and we show that fruitless specifically controls host-seeking in response to human odor. These results suggest that male mosquitoes possess the neural circuits required to host-seek and that removing fruitless reveals this latent behavior in males. Our results highlight an unexpected repurposing of a master regulator of male-specific sexual behavior to control one module of female-specific blood-feeding behavior in a deadly vector of infectious diseases.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience