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Published On: Mon, Jun 2nd, 2014

Lyme disease bacteria discovered in 15 million years old amber

NEWS RELEASE

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Lyme disease is a stealthy, often misdiagnosed disease that was only recognized about 40 years ago, but new discoveries of ticks fossilized in amber show that the bacteria which cause it may have been lurking around for 15 million years – long before any humans walked on Earth.

Rickettsia Cretaceous tick  This tick, preserved in amber about 100 million years old, offers the first-ever fossil record of Rickettsia-like cells, a type of bacteria that still causes various types of spotted fever. (Photo by George Poinar, Jr., courtesy of Oregon State University)

Rickettsia Cretaceous tick
This tick, preserved in amber about 100 million years old, offers the first-ever fossil record of Rickettsia-like cells, a type of bacteria that still causes various types of spotted fever. (Photo by George Poinar, Jr., courtesy of Oregon State University)

The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, who studied 15-20 million-year-old amber from the Dominican Republic that offer the oldest fossil evidence ever found of Borrelia, a type of spirochete-like bacteria that to this day causes Lyme disease. They were published in the journal Historical Biology.

In a related study, published in Cretaceous Research, OSU scientists announced the first fossil record of Rickettsial-like cells, a bacteria that can cause various types of spotted fever. Those fossils from Myanmar were found in ticks about 100 million years old.

As summer arrives and millions of people head for the outdoors, it’s worth considering that these tick-borne diseases may be far more common than has been historically appreciated, and they’ve been around for a long, long time.

“Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science, and one of the world’s leading experts on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber. “They are very efficient at maintaining populations of microbes in their tissues, and can infect mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals.

“In the United States, Europe and Asia, ticks are a more important insect vector of disease than mosquitos,” Poinar said. “They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors.

Read the rest of the OSU release

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  1. Jeff Levy says:

    A summary of important information concerning Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases is available in video format that can be viewed in less than 5 minutes: “What Is Lyme Disease: An evidence-based exploration of the concepts and common medical misconceptions of Lyme disease” http://youtu.be/tX70ivbRyJ4

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