Big tick for hidden bacterial world of tick-based research

8 July 2016

in 2016

tick pic

An echidna tick (Bothriocroton concolor), imaged by Siew-May (Kimberly) Loh [anterior view]

Perth molecular biologist Dr Charlotte Oskam has found herself at the centre of debate over whether Lyme disease exists in Australia with her research into the hidden bacterial world of ticks.

Charlotte has been searching Australian ticks for the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which causes Lyme disease in the Northern Hemisphere—a debilitating condition many believe is present in Australia despite health authorities claiming it is not.

And while Charlotte has not found that particular Borrelia bacteria, she has uncovered a related species in echidna ticks. That research was published in Parasites and Vectors in June 2016.

Ticks are filled with potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses, and are a major concern for the health and wellbeing of humans and animals.

Charlotte’s research sees her extract DNA from the blood-sucking parasites to uncover the microorganisms lurking inside and look for bugs that could cause diseases.

She uses ticks gathered in the field and from wildlife hospitals along with archived ticks in museum collections to look back in time and study the history of tick-borne disease in Australia.

Charlotte hopes that knowing whether these newly identified bacteria are native or introduced to Australia will help our understanding of the emergence and evolution of tick-borne pathogens.

Ultimately, the research aims to provide clearer diagnoses for people who become sick after being bitten by a tick and improve disease surveillance for tick-borne infections in Australia.

Charlotte presented her research at Fresh Science WA 2016. Fresh Science is a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery. Over 120 early-career researchers nominated for Fresh Science 2016, the WA round of which was held at the Maritime Museum (training and school forum) and the Brisbane Hotel (public challenge event) and was supported by the Western Australian Museum, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, the University of Western Australia and the University of Notre Dame, Australia.

Contact: Charlotte Oskam, Murdoch University, +618 93606349, c.oskam@murdoch.edu.au

tick pic

An echidna tick (Bothriocroton concolor), imaged by Siew-May (Kimberly) Loh [dorsal view]

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Speaking at Fresh Science school forum Maritime Museum, Fremantle

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Catalyst cameraman Mark Alborn and echindna (photo Mark Horstman, Catalyst)

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WA Fresh Scientists 2016

Charlotte image

Charlotte Oskam. Image: Luke McManus, Murdoch University

Charlotte image

Charlotte Oskam. Image: Luke McManus, Murdoch University

Charlotte image

Charlotte Oskam. Image: Luke McManus, Murdoch University

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