Plant-feeding phlebotomine sand flies, vectors of leishmaniasis, prefer Cannabis sativa

Ibrahim Abbasi, Artur Trancoso Lopo de Queiroz, Oscar David Kirstein, Abdelmajeed Nasereddin, Ben Zion Horwitz, Asrat Hailu, Ikram Salah, Tiago Feitosa Mota, Deborah Bittencourt Mothé Fraga, Patricia Sampaio Tavares Veras, David Poche, Richard Poche, Aidyn Yeszhanov, Cláudia Brodskyn, Zaria Torres-Poche, Alon Warburg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Blood-sucking phlebotomine sand flies (Diptera: Psychodidae) transmit leishmaniasis as well as arboviral diseases and bartonellosis. Sand fly females become infected with Leishmania parasites and transmit them while imbibing vertebrates’ blood, required as a source of protein for maturation of eggs. In addition, both females and males consume plant-derived sugar meals as a source of energy. Plant meals may comprise sugary solutions such as nectar or honeydew (secreted by plant-sucking homopteran insects), as well as phloem sap that sand flies obtain by piercing leaves and stems with their needle-like mouthparts. Hence, the structure of plant communities can influence the distribution and epidemiology of leishmaniasis. We designed a next-generation sequencing (NGS)–based assay for determining the source of sand fly plant meals, based upon the chloroplast DNA gene ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase large chain (rbcL). Here, we report on the predilection of several sand fly species, vectors of leishmaniasis in different parts of the world, for feeding on Cannabis sativa. We infer this preference based on the substantial percentage of sand flies that had fed on C. sativa plants despite the apparent “absence” of these plants from most of the field sites. We discuss the conceivable implications of the affinity of sand flies for C. sativa on their vectorial capacity for Leishmania and the putative exploitation of their attraction to C. sativa for the control of sand fly-borne diseases.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)11790-11795
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number46
StatePublished - 13 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Cannabis sativa
  • Leishmaniasis
  • Next-generation sequencing
  • Phlebotomine sand flies
  • Plant feeding


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