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Development of anti-tick vaccines

Ticks and tick-borne disease significantly affect livestock worldwide. Tick feeding can reduce milk production, reduced weight gain, damage to hides, anemia, and even death. Current tick control measures are focused on the use of synthetic acaricides.  Nevertheless, the emergence of resistance to several acaricides in tick populations has become a source of concern. Thus, increased interest has emerged in finding alternative approaches for the control of tick populations. One of such approaches is the development of anti-tick vaccines. Although some subunit vaccines have shown partial protection, polymorphism in protein sequence between tick populations and tick species reduces their efficiency. This project aims to examine the potential use of tick salivary glands- and midgut-derived extracellular vesicles as vaccine candidates against ticks. Effective tick vaccines will decrease the impact that ticks have on cattle and lessen the tick-borne disease burden. This knowledge can then be applied to other systems, potentially impacting animal and human health.

Epigenetics of ticks

Tick-borne diseases are gaining relevance in the US. Interestingly, 80% of the cases are concentrated in the Northeastern and Midwestern, US. Several factors play a role in an arthropod’s ability to vector pathogens, which may impact pathogen distribution. Behavioral and biological differences between tick populations may be driven by epigenetics. Epigenetic variations correlate with global transcriptional changes that result in phenotypic plasticity. In bees, caste differentiation is influenced by variations in DNA methylation in response to environmental and nutritional clues. We will investigate the role of epigenetics in tick biology by looking at the methylation of Ixodes scapularis DNA to determine epigenetic variations between tick populations in the South (Texas), Midwest (Minnesota), and Northeast (Pennsylvania), US. By establishing the link between epigenetics and vector competence, we can develop novel approaches to reduce the capacity of ticks to vector pathogens.

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