Researchers Decode the Genome of Mouse that Harbors Lyme Disease Bacteria

Lyme disease is among the fastest spreading diseases currently. As its onslaught increases to a worrying degree, researchers at the University of California together with a team of independent researchers have come one step closer to preventing its transmission and hence its spread.

Among the researchers were people like Alan Barbour who played a pivotal role in the discovery and identification of the Lyme disease.

Together, the team has been successful in sequencing the genome of the ‘vector’ that principally carries the Lyme disease-causing bacteria.

This study will prove pivotal in formulating approaches for stopping the propagation and hence the elimination of the disease.

A report showcasing the findings from the research were published in the journal named Science Advances.

The research took more than four years to complete as the team had to decode the whole genetic code of the Peromyscus leucopus more commonly known as the white-footed mouse. This mouse is known to carry the Lyme disease bacteria.

The white-footed mouse is fairly different from the common mice in that it inhibits forests and abandoned wetlands. The mouse might be a carrier of the bacteria but the actual vector is the tick. When a tick feeds on a white-footed mouse it carries the bacteria of the Lyme disease and a subsequent bite by the tick on a human body can get it affected.

“Many efforts to combat Lyme disease have focused on trying to control those ticks, but they have been difficult to put in practice, so we decided that instead, we should look at the animal carrying it.”,” said Alan Barbour.

Back in 1982, Alan Barbour was one of the discoverers of the Lyme disease, Borreliella burgdorferi. Alan is currently serving as a professor of medicine & molecular genetics at the University of California School of Medicine.

The task at hand was an extremely difficult one as decoding the genome meant taking apart a human-sized genome with roughly 2.45 billion nucleotides that make up the DNA’s structural unit. The team employed the services of the Biological Sciences Department at the University. Professor Anthony Long, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology was of immense help to the team.

“If you want to understand a species, knowing its genetic blueprint is invaluable,” said Long. “It provides a road map that makes new research approaches much faster and more efficient.”

Another detail that the study highlighted was that although the animal is classified as a mouse it is more related to hamsters than to mice.

Now that the genome has been decoded the researchers are employing a similar technique as was used for the prevention and transmission of rabies. They are developing a human-vaccination method for the white-footed mice.

It was an intriguing find that the rodents don’t develop Lyme disease even though they carry the bacteria. “Understanding what shields, them from getting sick could guide us in protecting humans from it,” Alan Barbour said.

The team has made the whole research and the decoded genome available to the whole world in a hope that every little effort from around the world would add up to a significant outcome. The genome has shown that the white-footed mouse carries bacteria for diseases other than the Lyme disease.

Until the said vaccine is formulated and is mass-produced the general public must try and prevent tick bites to save themselves from the Lyme disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a complete guide on their website which includes information on how to save pets, children, and adults from getting infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that climate change and the changing ecological patterns are responsible for the growing white-footed mouse population and hence the rising spread of the Lyme disease.

Adeena Tariq

Emma’s professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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