February 9, 2016

Scientists Have Finally Sequenced The Deer Tick Genome

A team led by Purdue University scientists has sequenced the genome of the tick that transmits Lyme disease. - Scott Bauer/USDA

A team led by Purdue University scientists has sequenced the genome of the tick that transmits Lyme disease.

Scott Bauer/USDA

WEST LAFAYETTE -- It took 93 people 10 years to complete, but a team led by Purdue University scientists has finally sequenced the deer tick genome.

Ticks transmit a huge number of pathogens and parasites that kill thousands of humans and animals each year. But partly because of its long, complicated genome, the tick is also a somewhat neglected area of study. Now, researchers may be able to uncover better ways to prevent illnesses such as Lyme disease. 

The deer tick is the first tick species to have its genes decoded. Purdue Professor of Medical Entomology Catherine Hill says that mapping is an important first step for public health officials.

"We have decoded the genome, so now we have the blueprints to understand the biology of the tick and to understand how it transmits diseases," Hill said.

Now that scientists can pinpoint which tick proteins enable disease-transmitting traits, Hill says, they can target those traits and try to create genetically-modified ticks without those markers. It also opens the door for creating new bug sprays that interact with the tick’s sense of smell, which it uses to find hosts.

Hill says the sequencing can also explain interesting aspects of tick biology, such as the arachnid’s ability to build a new exoskeleton in the process of consuming 100 times its weight in blood.

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