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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e35748. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035748. Epub 2012 May 22.

Naturally occurring culturable aerobic gut flora of adult Phlebotomus papatasi, vector of Leishmania major in the Old World.

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Division of Entomology, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States of America.



Cutaneous leishmaniasis is a neglected, vector-borne parasitic disease and is responsible for persistent, often disfiguring lesions and other associated complications. Leishmania, causing zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis (ZCL) in the Old World are mainly transmitted by the predominant sand fly vector, Phlebotomus papatasi. To date, there is no efficient control measure or vaccine available for this widespread insect-borne infectious disease.


A survey was carried out to study the abundance of different natural gut flora in P. papatasi, with the long-term goal of generating a paratransgenic sand fly that can potentially block the development of Leishmania in the sand fly gut, thereby preventing transmission of leishmania in endemic disease foci. Sand flies, in particular, P. papatasi were captured from different habitats of various parts of the world. Gut microbes were cultured and identified using 16S ribosomal DNA analysis and a phylogenetic tree was constructed. We found variation in the species and abundance of gut flora in flies collected from different habitats. However, a few Gram-positive, nonpathogenic bacteria including Bacillus flexus and B. pumilus were common in most of the sites examined.


Our results indicate that there is a wide range of variation of aerobic gut flora inhabiting sand fly guts, which possibly reflect the ecological condition of the habitat where the fly breeds. Also, some species of bacteria (B. pumilus, and B. flexus) were found from most of the habitats. Important from an applied perspective of dissemination, our results support a link between oviposition induction and adult gut flora.

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