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Ever shattered an orange using liquid nitrogen? That's how we get DNA out of ticks in our new @FrontiersIn article frontiersin.org/articles/10.33… @UMassMedical @broadinstitute @karlssonlab
We have a lot of ticks. 1000s & 1000s of ticks. People send them to us as part of our #citizenScience #tick disease study ProjectAcari.org. The problem? getting the DNA out.
We want to use high-throughput #DNA sequencing to find out everything we can about each individual #tick - its species, its intestinal #microbiome (they have one too!), and if it carries dangerous pathogens.
Why? We want to understand what factors influence whether a tick is likely to transmit disease to humans (or their #dogs) -- as a step towards better control strategies.
But ticks are tough. REALLY tough. We tried using something called a beat beater. This is what the ticks looked like when we were done. The legs hadn't even come off.
We were kind of stuck. To process the 1000s of ticks in our freezer we needed a high throughput way to get the DNA out, and into 96 well plates with one tick per well (single-tick sequencing).
We tried putting them in a 96-well plate and just squishing them. With a very fancy piece of scientific equipment called ... THE SQUISHER-96. It squishes, scientifically. But the ticks just bounced right back. #ZymoResearch zymoresearch.com/collections/ma…
And that is when we remembered liquid nitrogen and oranges. Voila! We put each tick in one well of the 96-well plate, freeze them by sitting the plate in liquid nitrogen, and then, SQUISH. They shatter! and then we extract DNA from the mush. #ZymoResearch
So, what have we found? The study we just published reports on the first few hundred ticks we collected. Most of them came from near us (Central Massachusetts)
Three out of every five (62%) were colonized by Borrelia burgdorferi, a pathogen that causes Lyme disease. Scary.
1 out of 10 ticks carried more than one pathogen. Even more scary.
We found no connection between the overall diversity of the tick's microbiome and whether it carried Borrelia. But we did find associations with specific microbial taxa. Is this a clue to a new way of fighting these pathogens? We don't know. We need more data.
Next step: more data! We have ticks from all over the US in our freezers. We're scaling things up. This is a complex, multi-dimensional puzzle, and we need a lot of data to find meaningful patterns.
Tick disease are horrible. I live in the Northeast of the US, where we all have family & friends affected by #lymedisease & other tick diseases. I was shocked to find out during this project (my first on tick disease) how little we know about organisms making so many of us sick.
We don't even have a reference genome for all but one of the tick species transmitting disease in the US. This makes it really hard to study them using genomic technology (we've sequenced hundreds of thousands of humans now. Can we just do a few more ticks?)
We also don't know how many disease causing pathogens ticks carry. The harder we look, the more we find.
At the same time, tick disease rates worldwide are increasing virtually unchecked due to the lack of effective control strategies. And #ClimateChange is making it worse.
If you live in the US, you can help. Send us your ticks. Join ProjectAcari.org and we'll send you a free Tick Kit.
Finally, a HUGE shout out to Gaurav Chauhan, @GSBS_UMassMed grad student, who is not on Twitter but instead probably working late in the lab making this whole project happen. #amazingGradStudents
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