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Concept: Amblyomma americanum

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BACKGROUND: Genomic resources within the phylum Arthropoda are largely limited to the true insects but are beginning to include unexplored subphyla, such as the Crustacea and Chelicerata. Investigations of these understudied taxa uncover high frequencies of orphan genes, which lack detectable sequence homology to genes in pre-existing databases. The ticks (Acari: Chelicerata) are one such understudied taxon for which genomic resources are urgently needed. Ticks are obligate blood-feeders that vector major diseases of humans, domesticated animals, and wildlife. In analyzing a transcriptome of the lone star tick Amblyomma americanum, one of the most abundant disease vectors in the United States, we find a high representation of unannotated sequences. We apply a general framework for quantifying the origin and true representation of unannotated sequences in a dataset and for evaluating the biological significance of orphan genes. RESULTS: Expressed sequence tags (ESTs) were derived from different life stages and populations of A. americanum and combined with ESTs available from GenBank to produce 14,310 ESTs, over twice the number previously available. The vast majority (71%) has no sequence homology to proteins archived in UniProtKB. We show that poor sequence or assembly quality is not a major contributor to this high representation by orphan genes. Moreover, most unannotated sequences are functional: a microarray experiment demonstrates that 59% of functional ESTs are unannotated. Lastly, we attempt to further annotate our EST dataset using genomic datasets from other members of the Acari, including Ixodes scapularis, four other tick species and the mite Tetranychus urticae. We find low homology with these species, consistent with significant divergence within this subclass. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that the abundance of orphan genes in A. americanum likely results from 1) taxonomic isolation stemming from divergence within the tick lineage and limited genomic resources for ticks and 2) lineage-specific genes needing functional genomic studies to evaluate their association with the unique biology of ticks. The EST sequences described here will contribute substantially to the development of tick genomics. Moreover, the framework provided for the evaluation of orphan genes can guide analyses of future transcriptome sequencing projects.

Concepts: DNA, Genomics, Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodidae, Acari, Arachnid, Amblyomma americanum

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Ticks in the nostrils of humans visiting equatorial African forests have been reported sporadically for decades, but their taxonomy and natural history have remained obscure. We report human infestation with a nostril tick in Kibale National Park, Uganda, coincident with infestation of chimpanzees in the same location with nostril ticks, as shown by high-resolution digital photography. The human-derived nostril tick was identified morphologically and genetically as a nymph of the genus Amblyomma, but the mitochondrial 12S ribosomal RNA or the nuclear intergenic transcribed spacer 2 DNA sequences of the specimen were not represented in GenBank. These ticks may represent a previously uncharacterized species that is adapted to infesting chimpanzee nostrils as a defense against grooming. Ticks that feed upon apes and humans may facilitate cross-species transmission of pathogens, and the risk of exposure is likely elevated for persons who frequent ape habitats.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Bacteria, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Arachnid, Amblyomma americanum

35

Bourbon virus (BRBV) was first isolated in 2014 from a resident of Bourbon County, Kansas, USA, who died of the infection. In 2015, an ill Payne County, Oklahoma, resident tested positive for antibodies to BRBV, before fully recovering. We retrospectively tested for BRBV in 39,096 ticks from northwestern Missouri, located 240 km from Bourbon County, Kansas. We detected BRBV in 3 pools of Amblyomma americanum (L.) ticks: 1 pool of male adults and 2 pools of nymphs. Detection of BRBV in A. americanum, a species that is aggressive, feeds on humans, and is abundant in Kansas and Oklahoma, supports the premise that A. americanum is a vector of BRBV to humans. BRBV has not been detected in nonhuman vertebrates, and its natural history remains largely unknown.

Concepts: U.S. state, Ixodidae, Native Americans in the United States, Democratic Party, Amblyomma americanum, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma

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In the early 1980s, Ixodes spp. ticks were implicated as the key North American vectors of Borrelia burgdorferi (Johnson, Schmid, Hyde, Steigerwalt and Brenner) (Spirocheatales: Spirochaetaceae), the etiological agent of Lyme disease. Concurrently, other human-biting tick species were investigated as potential B. burgdorferi vectors. Rashes thought to be erythema migrans were observed in patients bitten by Amblyomma americanum (L.) (Acari: Ixodidae) ticks, and spirochetes were visualized in a small percentage of A. americanum using fluorescent antibody staining methods, sparking interest in this species as a candidate vector of B. burgdorferi. Using molecular methods, the spirochetes were subsequently described as Borrelia lonestari sp. nov. (Spirocheatales: Spirochaetaceae), a transovarially transmitted relapsing fever Borrelia of uncertain clinical significance. In total, 54 surveys from more than 35 research groups, involving more than 52,000 ticks, have revealed a low prevalence of B. lonestari, and scarce B. burgdorferi, in A. americanum. In Lyme disease-endemic areas, A. americanum commonly feeds on B. burgdorferi-infected hosts; the extremely low prevalence of B. burgdorferi in this tick results from a saliva barrier to acquiring infection from infected hosts. At least nine transmission experiments involving B. burgdorferi in A. americanum have failed to demonstrate vector competency. Advancements in molecular analysis strongly suggest that initial reports of B. burgdorferi in A. americanum across many states were misidentified B. lonestari, or DNA contamination, yet the early reports continue to be cited without regard to the later clarifying studies. In this article, the surveillance and vector competency studies of B. burgdorferi in A. americanum are reviewed, and we conclude that A. americanum is not a vector of B. burgdorferi.

Concepts: Bacteria, Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodidae, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia, Spirochaetes, Amblyomma americanum

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Heartland virus (HRTV), the first pathogenic Phlebovirus (Family: Bunyaviridae) discovered in the United States, was recently described from two Missouri farmers. In 2012, we collected 56,428 ticks representing three species at 12 sites including both patients' farms. Amblyomma americanum and Dermacentor variabilis accounted for nearly all ticks collected. Ten pools composed of deplete nymphs of A. americanum collected at a patient farm and a nearby conservation area were reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction positive, and eight pools yielded viable viruses. Sequence data from the nonstructural protein of the Small segment indicates that tick strains and human strains are very similar, ≥ 97.6% sequence identity. This is the first study to isolate HRTV from field-collected arthropods and to implicate ticks as potential vectors. Amblyomma americanum likely becomes infected by feeding on viremic hosts during the larval stage, and transmission to humans occurs during the spring and early summer when nymphs are abundant and actively host seeking.

Concepts: Protein, Lyme disease, Viruses, Tick, Ixodidae, Acari, Amblyomma americanum, Dermacentor variabilis

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A semi-autonomous 4-wheeled robot (TickBot) was fitted with a denim cloth treated with an acaricide (permethrin™) and tested for its ability to control ticks in a tick-infested natural environment in Portsmouth, Virginia. The robot’s sensors detect a magnetic field signal from a guide wire encased in 80m polyethylene tubing, enabling the robot to follow the trails, open areas and other terrain where the tubing was located. To attract ticks to the treated area, CO2 was distributed through the same tubing, fitted with evenly spaced pores and flow control valves, which permitted uniform CO2 distribution. Tests were done to determine the optimum frequency for TickBot to traverse the wire-guided treatment site as well as the duration of operation that could be accomplished on a single battery charge. Prior to treatment, dragging was done to determine the natural abundance of ticks in the test site. Controls were done without CO2 and without permethrin. TickBot proved highly effective in reducing the overall tick densities to nearly zero with the treatment that included both carbon dioxide pretreatment and the permethrin treated cloth. Following a 60min traverse of the treatment areas, adult tick numbers, almost entirely Amblyomma americanum, was reduced to zero within 1h and remained at or near zero for 24h. Treatments without CO2 also showed reduction of ticks to near zero within 1h, but the populations were no different than the control sections at 4h. This study demonstrates the efficacy of TickBot as a tick control device to significantly reduce the risk of tick bites and disease transmission to humans and companion animals visiting a previously tick-infested natural environment. Continued deployment of TickBot for additional days or weeks can assure a relatively tick-safe environment for enjoyment by the public.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Redox, Lyme disease, Carbon, Tick, Ixodidae, Amblyomma americanum

14

Viruses in the family Bunyaviridae infect a wide range of plant, insect, and animal hosts. Tick-borne bunyaviruses in the Phlebovirus genus, including Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome virus (SFTSV) in China, Heartland virus (HRTV) in the United States, and Bhanja virus in Eurasia and Africa have been associated with acute febrile illness in humans. Here we sought to characterize the growth characteristics and genome of Lone Star virus (LSV), an unclassified bunyavirus originally isolated from the lone star tick Amblyomma americanum. LSV was able to infect both human (HeLa) and monkey (Vero) cells. Cytopathic effects were seen within 72 h in both cell lines; vacuolization was observed in infected Vero, but not HeLa, cells. Viral culture supernatants were examined by unbiased deep sequencing and analysis using an in-house developed rapid computational pipeline for viral discovery, which definitively identified LSV as a phlebovirus. De novo assembly of the full genome revealed that LSV is highly divergent, sharing <61% overall amino acid identity with any other bunyavirus. Despite this sequence diversity, LSV was found by phylogenetic analysis to be part of a well-supported clade that includes members of the Bhanja group viruses, which are most closely related to SFSTV/HRTV. The genome sequencing of LSV is a critical first step in developing diagnostic tools to determine the risk of arbovirus transmission by A. americanum, a tick of growing importance given its expanding geographic range and competence as a disease vector. This study also underscores the power of deep sequencing analysis in rapidly identifying and sequencing the genomes of viruses of potential clinical and public health significance.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Organism, Virus, Genome, Infection, Amblyomma americanum

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Lyme borreliosis (LB) is the most common reported tick-borne infection in Europe, and involves transmission of Borrelia by ticks. As long as a vaccine is not available and effective measures for controlling tick populations are insufficient, LB control is focused on preventive measures to avoid tick bites. To inform citizens about the risk of ticks, motivate them to check for tick bites, and encourage them to remove any attached tick as quickly as possible, a mobile app called ‘Tekenbeet’ (Dutch for ‘tick bite’) was developed and released. The aim of this study was to evaluate the usage and user satisfaction of the ‘Tekenbeet’ app and to investigate whether it affects users' knowledge, perceived severity, perceived susceptibility, self-efficacy, response efficacy, current behavior and intention to comply with preventive measures.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Borrelia, Babesiosis, Vector, Amblyomma americanum, Tick-borne disease

4

Fossil ticks are extremely rare and Ixodes succineus Weidner, 1964 from Eocene (ca. 44-49 Ma) Baltic amber is one of the oldest examples of a living hard tick genus (Ixodida: Ixodidae). Previous work suggested it was most closely related to the modern and widespread European sheep tick Ixodes ricinus (Linneaus, 1758).

Concepts: Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodidae, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Babesiosis, Vector, Amblyomma americanum

4

Two tick-borne diseases with expanding case and vector distributions are ehrlichiosis (transmitted by Amblyomma americanum) and rickettiosis (transmitted by A. maculatum and Dermacentor variabilis). There is a critical need to identify the specific habitats where each of these species is likely to be encountered to classify and pinpoint risk areas. Consequently, an in-depth tick prevalence study was conducted on the dominant ticks in the southeast. Vegetation, soil, and remote sensing data were used to test the hypothesis that habitat and vegetation variables can predict tick abundances. No variables were significant predictors of A. americanum adult and nymph tick abundance, and no clustering was evident because this species was found throughout the study area. For A. maculatum adult tick abundance was predicted by NDVI and by the interaction between habitat type and plant diversity; two significant population clusters were identified in a heterogeneous area suitable for quail habitat. For D. variabilis no environmental variables were significant predictors of adult abundance; however, D. variabilis collections clustered in three significant areas best described as agriculture areas with defined edges. This study identified few landscape and vegetation variables associated with tick presence. While some variables were significantly associated with tick populations, the amount of explained variation was not useful for predicting reliably where ticks occur; consequently, additional research that includes multiple sampling seasons and locations throughout the southeast are warranted. This low amount of explained variation may also be due to the use of hosts for dispersal, and potentially to other abiotic and biotic variables. Host species play a large role in the establishment, maintenance, and dispersal of a tick species, as well as the maintenance of disease cycles, dispersal to new areas, and identification of risk areas.

Concepts: Scientific method, Prediction, Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodidae, Remote sensing, Amblyomma americanum, Dermacentor variabilis