Background: The malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae has a high preference for human hosts, a characteristic that contributes greatly to its capacity for transmitting human malaria. A sibling species, An. quadriannulatus, has a quite different host preference and feeds mostly on bovids. For this reason it does not contribute to human malaria transmission. Host seeking in mosquitoes is modulated by the olfactory system, which is primarily housed in the antennae and maxillary palps. Therefore, the detection of differing host odors by sibling species may be reflected in the expression level of the olfactory genes involved. Accordingly, we compared the transcriptomes of the antennae and maxillary palps of An. gambiae and An. quadriannulatus. Results: We identified seven relatively abundant olfactory receptors, nine ionotropic receptors and three odorant binding proteins that are substantially up-regulated in An. gambiae antennae. Interestingly, we find that the maxillary palps of An. gambiae contain a species-specific olfactory receptor, Or52, and five An. gambiae-specific gustatory receptors (AgGr48-52) that are relatively abundant. These five gustatory receptors are also expressed in An. gambiae antennae, although at lower level, indicating a likely role in olfaction, rather than gustation. We also document an approximately three-fold higher overall expression of olfaction genes in the maxillary palps of An. quadriannulatus, indicating an important role of this organ in the olfaction system of this species. Finally, the expression of the CO2 receptor genes is five to six-fold higher in the zoophilic An. quadriannulatus, implying a much higher sensitivity for detecting CO2. Conclusions: These results identify potential human host preference genes in the malaria vector An. gambiae. Interestingly, species-specific expression of several gustatory receptors in the olfactory organs indicate a role in olfaction rather than gustation. Additionally, a more expansive role for maxillary palps in olfaction is implicated than previously thought, albeit more so in the zoophilic An. quadriannulatus.
(The Retraction Note to this article has been published in BMC Genomics 2015 16:572 )