We are really excited to announce that Dr. Aubrey Tauer, co-founder, has received a grant from the PSC-CUNY Research Foundation along with Dr. Sultan Jenkins at CUNY LaGuardia Community College to initiate research into the microbiome of fleas and ticks in Central America, as well as completing surveillance for pathogens of concerns in these vectors of diseases. Here is a synopsis of why this research is important from the grant they wrote:
“Since the 1940s over 300 emerging infectious disease events have occurred in
humans. Seventy-five percent of these emerging or re-emerging diseases are of
animal origin, many of which require a biological vector such as ticks, mosquitoes,
fleas, or other insects to aid in transmission and spread.
Developing countries such as those in Central America often share a
disproportionate burden from these infectious diseases due to a variety of factors
such as climate and environmental change, inadequate health infrastructure,
difficulty in controlling large amounts of biological vectors, poverty, and close
contact with domestic animals and wildlife.
As with most multi-celled organisms, fleas and ticks carry beneficial microbes (the microbiome) that aid in important physiological functions and impact immunity. Many insect vector species have an innate immunity to the pathogens that they transmit to vertebrate hosts. This can impact vector competence, or the genetic ability to transmit pathogens.
Fleas and ticks transmit numerous diseases of worldwide concern, such as Q fever, bubonic plague, Lyme disease and other spirochetes, Bartonellosis, and protozoal parasites (Eshoo et al 2015). Studies have indicated that direct and indirect
influences from the insect’s microbiome can affect an insect’s vector competency in transmitting pathogens of public health and veterinary importance.”
Our mission at Cūra Earth can be summed up in a simple phrase: health connects all species. We are excited to begin our first terrestrial (land based) project that will help us learn more about how diseases are spread from animals to humans and vice-versa via insects, and hopefully allow us to begin to understand the role that environmental change plays in this transmission by looking at fleas and ticks in different landscapes and densities of humans and domestic animals. Our hope after completing this pilot project is to secure funding to start testing domestic animals, wildlife, and humans, while training local scientists and providing them with the resources they need to complete their own research. We will also be able to add new information to the health community on how the microbiome may affect vector competence in the wild, as many studies have focused on looking at these issues in a lab setting.
We will be working with Dr. Tim Johnson at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine to complete the DNA sequencing work and are very happy to count him and his lab as a partner in this endeavor. Stay tuned for more information as we start field work this summer! We will also be posting soon about our new initiative to study the microbiome of sea turtles this summer as well.