A new technique to study nutrient flow in host-parasite systems by carbon stable isotope analysis of amino acids and glucose
Stable isotope analysis of individual compounds is emerging as a powerful tool to study nutrient origin and conversion in host-parasite systems. We measured the carbon isotope composition of amino acids and glucose in the cestode Schistocephalus solidus and in liver and muscle tissues of its second intermediate host, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), over the course of 90 days in a controlled infection experiment. Similar linear regressions of δ13C values over time and low trophic fractionation of essential amino acids indicate that the parasite assimilates nutrients from sources closely connected to the liver metabolism of its host. Biosynthesis of glucose in the parasite might occur from the glucogenic precursors alanine, asparagine and glutamine and with an isotope fractionation of − 2 to – 3 ‰ from enzymatic reactions, while trophic fractionation of glycine, serine and threonine could be interpreted as extensive nutrient conversion to fuel parasitic growth through one-carbon metabolism. Trophic fractionation of amino acids between sticklebacks and their diets was slightly increased in infected compared to uninfected individuals, which could be caused by increased (immune-) metabolic activities due to parasitic infection. Our results show that compound-specific stable isotope analysis has unique opportunities to study host and parasite physiology.