Mount Allison biology students Lia D’Abate (left) and Ryan Pinkham demonstrate a lab technique for testing tick DNA for Dalhousie University professor Dr. Tatiana Rossolimo in Dr. Vett Lloyd’s genetics class at Mount Allison University.
SACKVILLE, NB — Mount Allison University students in Dr. Vett Lloyd’s biology class recently had some extra company in their lab. Researchers from Dalhousie University visited the third-year genetics lab to learn about techniques used in to extract DNA from ticks in the Maritimes and test them for various pathogens, including Lyme disease.
Lloyd and her research team began testing ticks from the local area this past summer. “We test tick DNA for three pathogens. The most known and probably the most dangerous being the Lyme disease bacteria,” said Lloyd. “With warmer winters in the Maritimes, we’ve seen an increase in the number of ticks.
“In the samples we’ve collected locally there are more black-legged ticks than previously found in the area and there are as many infected ticks in areas of Eastern New Brunswick,” added Lloyd,
The area is not previously known to have endemic populations, as there are in known endemic areas.
“This suggests that ticks are establishing new populations in New Brunswick, as well as Nova Scotia,” said Lloyd. “So the more researchers in the region we have to test for these pathogens, the better.”
Dr. Tatiana Rossolimo, a biologist from Dalhousie University agrees.
“I wanted to learn first-hand how Vett and her students are testing tick DNA for these pathogens,” she said. “Ticks are a common concern across the Maritimes and we hope to take this knowledge and apply it in our lab to help monitor the tick population in Nova Scotia.”
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted when an infected tick bites a person, dog, cat, or wild animal. The symptoms of the disease in humans include variable sudden-onset arthritis and neurological symptoms that resemble multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or fibromyalgia. A rash may or may not form at the site of infection. If caught early, Lyme disease is easily treatable with antibiotics. There is a blood test for the disease, but it will not always detect the disease.