Cristina Quinn of PBS Newshour reports that 40 percent of Nantucket’s 10,000 year-round residents either now have or have had Lyme disease. With statistics like that, Lyme is a serious problem that needs to be solved. And it isn’t only Nantucket. The tick population has risen all over the country over the last 20 years, especially in the North East. However in this post we want to talk not simply about Lyme disease, but about the newest idea in preventing it.
Humans get Lyme disease from ticks, but do you know where the ticks get Lyme disease? Mice, white-footed mice to be exact. Kevin Esvelt, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that these mice are the place to start in reducing the threat of Lyme disease. It sounds like a simple proposition. There are other types of mice that are immune to Lyme disease. Esvelt suggests that they study the genomes of these mice to identify what makes them immune. Then they take best of what they find in this DNA, the elements that keep them from becoming infected, and create an engineered strain of mice. Eventually, these mice would mate with the existing mice and the offspring would be immune. As each new generation is born, the prevalence of the disease diminishes.
THE DOWNSIDE OF USING MICE TO COMBAT LYME DISEASE
As with all plans that sound simple, there is at least one slight problem. To make this plan work, it requires A LOT of mice. Approximately 100,000 genetically-engineered mice would need to be released on each island. Jason Bridges, a resident and local selectman in Nantucket, didn’t know what to think when he initially heard this plan. He compared it to a “bad sci-fi movie.” But as information has continued to be presented he believes that the towns are starting to get used to the idea. They have even formed a committee to work with Esvelt, whose goal is to be as transparent with his plans as possible. If the plan continues to move forward, it will still be 7 years before these genetically-modified rodents can be released but Esvelt is hopeful, and it seems that the area is beginning to see that the benefit of preventing illness just might outweigh the negative thought that comes with releasing thousands of mice into the area.
At Mosquito Squad of North Shore, we remain hopeful that a day will come when Lyme disease does not pose such a threat to our great state. We appreciate the vigilance of scientists as they continue to search for answers and are glad we are able to pass this information on to you. For now, we hope that you will continue to be vigilant at home. Continue to protect your own living spaces from ticks and the illnesses they carry by calling us today and scheduling your barrier treatments and tick tube placements. We can eliminate 85-90% of existing ticks in your yard. We look forward to discussing this with you.