Tick Borne Disease Research

Borreliosis in Texas

In Texas, Amblyomma americanum (Acari: Ixodidae), also known as the lone star tick, is commonly implicated in tick-borne illness. The lone star tick has been previously identified as carrying Borrelia spp., Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlichia ewingii, Rickettsia spp. (including R. rickettsia, R. amblyommii, R. parkeri and Rickettsia sp. MOAa), Coxiella burnettii, Francisella tularensis, Bartonella henselae, and Babesia microti. Generally used detection methods (i.e. culture, histological staining, biochemical testing, ELISA, Western Blot and nucleic acid sequencing) can be laborious, time consuming and require multiple tests for pathogen detection.

The tick-borne disease research laboratory’s main research interests lie in the development of multilocus virtual arrays using low-level DNA methodologies for clinical diagnostic applications and rapid PCR-based diagnostic systems to study vector-borne pathogens. Of particular interest are Borrelia lonestari and Borrelia burgdorferi. New virtual arrays are also being developed to include Ehrlichia, Rickettsia, Babesia, Bartonella, Coxiella, and Francisella species. Collaborative research endeavors utilize predictive risk models based on satellite remote sensing imagery and geographic information system techniques to study the epidemiology, genetics and associated clinical manifestations of potential emerging pathogens and to perform environmental monitoring of vector-borne populations in Texas, the southwestern United States and South America.

Many of vector-borne emerging pathogens are now listed as National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Category A, B & C priority pathogens (http://www2.niaid.nih.gov/Biodefense/bandc_priority.htm). Therefore, several of these DNA-based multiplexing approaches are also being investigated for microbial forensic testing and application in biodefense measures.