For ten years entomologist, Catherine Hill at Purdue University and a team of 93 scientists from 46 institutions around the world have been studying ticks in effort to combat the dangerous tick-borne diseases that afflict thousands of people and animals annually. They have just completed mapping the genome of the Lyme Disease carrying black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), commonly referred to as the deer tick, as part of this effort. Now that the genome sequencing is done, the team says they are just getting started.
WHAT IS GENOME SEQUENCING?
A genome is the complete set of genetic material or genes present in an organism. These genes are made of DNA that carries genetic information. To sequence a genome is to figure out the unique order of the pieces that make up an organism’s DNA. When the work is done, scientists have a genome map allowing them to learn a great deal of information about that particular species.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF HAVING A DEER TICK GENOME MAP?
The goals of mapping the deer tick genome are to be able to design targeted pesticides and medicine to combat dangerous tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Powassan disease, Anaplasmosis and more.
HIGHLY FOCUSED PESTICIDES
Scientists have already learned a great deal about deer ticks from their genome map. Some information is helpful in learning tick behavior, such as the discovery that deer ticks smell with their feet to identify a new host when questing for their next blood meal. This information can help scientists figure out ways to interfere with the tick’s ability to use that sense of smell to find hosts and mates for reproduction.
Scientists have discovered that about 20% of the deer ticks gene’s “are unique to ticks” which can help create highly focused pesticides. The benefit of this focused pesticide is it would only be aimed at ticks, minimizing harm to other organisms even further than today’s current methods.
NEW TICK-BORNE DISEASE MEDICINES
Ticks have developed immunity to many of the pathogens they carry. With the information available within their genome map, scientists can develop vaccines for humans and pets and possibly prevent future tick-borne disease epidemics.
The information found in the deer tick genome mapping certainly provides new hope to those of us living in areas where Lyme Disease is at an epidemic level.
We are committed to providing you the best most up-to-date information on the threat of tick-borne diseases in Central Mass. Stay tuned for the latest on ticks in the area. Be sure to follow the 6 C’s of tick control to make certain your yard is not inadvertently attracting ticks.