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Identifying tick genes could halt disease, bioterrorism threat

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Ticks as small as a freckle can transmit a number of illnesses for which there is no vaccine and, in some cases, no cure. These creatures even could become bioterrorism weapons.

To find new ways to control the tiny animals and halt the spread of the pathogens they carry, Purdue University researchers and colleagues from the University of Connecticut Health Center, the University of Notre Dame and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are undertaking the job of unraveling the genetic makeup of one variety of the creature, called the deer or black-legged tick.

"This will be the first time researchers have explored a tick genome in depth," said Purdue's Catherine Hill, project co-principal investigator. "It's crucial to learn how ticks spread serious illnesses because of the global health threats these diseases pose.

"From a bioterrorism standpoint, it's pretty clear ticks could transmit a number of diseases that intentionally could be introduced and conveyed to people."

The scientists involved in this project have formed the International Ixodes scapularis Sequencing Committee. One of the potential outcomes of this project may be development of vaccines to block transmission of microbes that cause tick-borne illnesses, said Hill, who spearheaded efforts to gain National Institutes of Health backing for the initial stages of the tick genome venture.

Hill and her Purdue researchers are preparing materials that will be the foundation of the sequencing project, she said. She already has begun extracting RNA from ticks at different stages of their lifecycle and from different tissues in the tick. These samples will provide the scientists with the first clues as to the types of genes present in ticks and how gene expression changes when ticks are infected with disease-causing microorganisms.

"Once we begin to collect the genome data, we will analyze what the genes do and how they control tick behavior, i
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Contact: Susan A. Steeves
ssteeves@purdue.edu
765-496-7481
Purdue University
2-Sep-2004


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