Returning to flight Efforts of New England biologists help usher in rebirth of the endangered Karner blue butterfly

ALBANY: Melissa Stone, PhD student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Program at the University of Albany, spoke at the September Save the Pine Bush vegetarian dinner at the First Presbyterian church about lyme disease.

Lyme disease is an old disease, first identified in the early 1900’s. In 1975, it was recognized in the United States. Lyme disease, caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, needs a tick vector. The black-legged tic hosts the bacteria. The tick hangs on to the end of a blade of grass, waving its legs, waiting for some warm-blooded body to wander by that it can grab onto. Only female ticks can carry Lyme disease. Ticks are not born with Lyme disease.

Symptoms include a bull’s eye rash, fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, nerve problems and a lowered heart rate.

Why is Lyme disease so important? New York State had the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the country. Columbia County has the worst reported cases in New York.

Melissa is planning to study the genetics of the bacteria. There is an Outer Surface Protein C (OspC) on the bacteria. A Gene Bank has determined the codes for these OspC. There are different groups of these OspC. These groups are important, because different groups cause different levels of disease. For example, OspC groups D, E, F and L do not infect humans. Groups G, H, J, T cause bull’s eye rash, but no other symptoms. Groups A, B, I, K cause very severe disease and are the most medically important groups.

Melissa will take ticks collected in the Pine Bush in 2001-2003, grind them up, and compare them to ticks she collects in the Pine Bush now. The hope is by comparing the Outer Surface Protein Cs of the various ticks, more will be learned about how Lyme disease spreads.

Melissa plans to bring lots of DEET with her for her study. To capture the ticks, she will drag a sheet through the Pine Bush which the waving ticks should grab onto. We hope that when her research is completed (several years from now), Melissa will come back and tell us what she found out.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2008 Newletter