April 21, 2020  |  

The Anaplasma ovis genome reveals a high proportion of pseudogenes.

The genus Anaplasma is made up of organisms characterized by small genomes that are undergoing reductive evolution. Anaplasma ovis, one of the seven recognized species in this genus, is an understudied pathogen of sheep and other ruminants. This tick-borne agent is thought to induce only mild clinical disease; however, small deficits may add to larger economic impacts due to the wide geographic distribution of this pathogen.In this report we present the first complete genome sequence for A. ovis and compare the genome features with other closely related species. The 1,214,674?bp A. ovis genome encodes 933 protein coding sequences, the split operon arrangement for ribosomal RNA genes, and more pseudogenes than previously recognized for other Anaplasma species. The metabolic potential is similar to other Anaplasma species. Anaplasma ovis has a small repertoire of surface proteins and transporters. Several novel genes are identified.Analyses of these important features and significant gene families/genes with potential to be vaccine candidates are presented in a comparative context. The availability of this genome will significantly facilitate research for this pathogen.


September 22, 2019  |  

Survey of Ixodes pacificus ticks in California reveals a diversity of microorganisms and a novel and widespread Anaplasmataceae species.

Ixodes pacificus ticks can harbor a wide range of human and animal pathogens. To survey the prevalence of tick-borne known and putative pathogens, we tested 982 individual adult and nymphal I. pacificus ticks collected throughout California between 2007 and 2009 using a broad-range PCR and electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (PCR/ESI-MS) assay designed to detect a wide range of tick-borne microorganisms. Overall, 1.4% of the ticks were found to be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, 2.0% were infected with Borrelia miyamotoi and 0.3% were infected with Anaplasma phagocytophilum. In addition, 3.0% were infected with Babesia odocoilei. About 1.2% of the ticks were co-infected with more than one pathogen or putative pathogen. In addition, we identified a novel Anaplasmataceae species that we characterized by sequencing of its 16S rRNA, groEL, gltA, and rpoB genes. Sequence analysis indicated that this organism is phylogenetically distinct from known Anaplasma species with its closest genetic near neighbors coming from Asia. The prevalence of this novel Anaplasmataceae species was as high as 21% at one site, and it was detected in 4.9% of ticks tested statewide. Based upon this genetic characterization we propose that this organism be called ‘Candidatus Cryptoplasma californiense’. Knowledge of this novel microbe will provide awareness for the community about the breadth of the I. pacificus microbiome, the concept that this bacterium could be more widely spread; and an opportunity to explore whether this bacterium also contributes to human or animal disease burden.


September 22, 2019  |  

The bacterial microbiome of Dermacentor andersoni ticks influences pathogen susceptibility.

Ticks are of medical importance owing to their ability to transmit pathogens to humans and animals. The Rocky Mountain wood tick, Dermacentor andersoni, is a vector of a number of pathogens, including Anaplasma marginale, which is the most widespread tick-borne pathogen of livestock. Although ticks host pathogenic bacteria, they also harbor bacterial endosymbionts that have a role in tick physiology, survival, as well as pathogen acquisition and transmission. The goal of this study was to characterize the bacterial microbiome and examine the impact of microbiome disruption on pathogen susceptibility. The bacterial microbiome of two populations of D. andersoni with historically different susceptibilities to A. marginale was characterized. In this study, the microbiome was disrupted and then ticks were exposed to A. marginale or Francisella novicida to determine whether the microbiome correlated with pathogen susceptibility. Our study showed that an increase in proportion and quantity of Rickettsia bellii in the microbiome was negatively correlated to A. marginale levels in ticks. Furthermore, a decrease in Francisella endosymbionts was associated with lower F. novicida infection levels, demonstrating a positive pathogen-endosymbiont relationship. We demonstrate that endosymbionts and pathogens have varying interactions, and suggest that microbiome manipulation may provide a possible method for biocontrol by decreasing pathogen susceptibility of ticks.


September 22, 2019  |  

Laboratory colonization stabilizes the naturally dynamic microbiome composition of field collected Dermacentor andersoni ticks.

Nearly a quarter of emerging infectious diseases identified in the last century are arthropod-borne. Although ticks and insects can carry pathogenic microorganisms, non-pathogenic microbes make up the majority of their microbial communities. The majority of tick microbiome research has had a focus on discovery and description; very few studies have analyzed the ecological context and functional responses of the bacterial microbiome of ticks. The goal of this analysis was to characterize the stability of the bacterial microbiome of Dermacentor andersoni ticks between generations and two populations within a species.The bacterial microbiome of D. andersoni midguts and salivary glands was analyzed from populations collected at two different ecologically distinct sites by comparing field (F1) and lab-reared populations (F1-F3) over three generations. The microbiome composition of pooled and individual samples was analyzed by sequencing nearly full-length 16S rRNA gene amplicons using a Pacific Biosciences CCS platform that allows identification of bacteria to the species level.In this study, we found that the D. andersoni microbiome was distinct in different geographic populations and was tissue specific, differing between the midgut and the salivary gland, over multiple generations. Additionally, our study showed that the microbiomes of laboratory-reared populations were not necessarily representative of their respective field populations. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the microbiome of a few individual ticks does not represent the microbiome composition at the population level.We demonstrated that the bacterial microbiome of D. andersoni was complex over three generations and specific to tick tissue (midgut vs. salivary glands) as well as geographic location (Burns, Oregon vs. Lake Como, Montana vs. laboratory setting). These results provide evidence that habitat of the tick population is a vital component of the complexity of the bacterial microbiome of ticks, and that the microbiome of lab colonies may not allow for comparative analyses with field populations. A broader understanding of microbiome variation will be required if we are to employ manipulation of the microbiome as a method for interfering with acquisition and transmission of tick-borne pathogens.


July 19, 2019  |  

Inhibitors of the tick-borne, hemorrhagic fever-associated flaviviruses.

No antiviral therapies are available for the tick-borne flaviviruses associated with hemorrhagic fevers: Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV), both classical and the Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever virus (AHFV) subtype, and Omsk hemorrhagic fever virus (OHFV). We tested compounds reported to have antiviral activity against members of the Flaviviridae family for their ability to inhibit AHFV replication. 6-Azauridine (6-azaU), 2′-C-methylcytidine (2′-CMC), and interferon alpha 2a (IFN-a2a) inhibited the replication of AHFV and also KFDV, OHFV, and Powassan virus. The combination of IFN-a2a and 2′-CMC exerted an additive antiviral effect on AHFV, and the combination of IFN-a2a and 6-azaU was moderately synergistic. The combination of 2′-CMC and 6-azaU was complex, being strongly synergistic but with a moderate level of antagonism. The antiviral activity of 6-azaU was reduced by the addition of cytidine but not guanosine, suggesting that it acted by inhibiting pyrimidine biosynthesis. To investigate the mechanism of action of 2′-CMC, AHFV variants with reduced susceptibility to 2′-CMC were selected. We used a replicon system to assess the substitutions present in the selected AHFV population. A double NS5 mutant, S603T/C666S, and a triple mutant, S603T/C666S/M644V, were more resistant to 2′-CMC than the wild-type replicon. The S603T/C666S mutant had a reduced level of replication which was increased when M644V was also present, although the replication of this triple mutant was still below that of the wild type. The S603 and C666 residues were predicted to lie in the active site of the AHFV NS5 polymerase, implicating the catalytic center of the enzyme as the binding site for 2′-CMC. Copyright © 2014, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.


July 7, 2019  |  

The mitochondrial genome of a Texas outbreak strain of the cattle tick, Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus, derived from whole genome sequencing Pacific Biosciences and Illumina reads.

The cattle fever tick, Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus is one of the most significant medical veterinary pests in the world, vectoring several serious livestock diseases negatively impacting agricultural economies of tropical and subtropical countries around the world. In our study, we assembled the complete R. microplus mitochondrial genome from Illumina and Pac Bio sequencing reads obtained from the ongoing R. microplus (Deutsch strain from Texas, USA) genome sequencing project. We compared the Deutsch strain mitogenome to the mitogenome from a Brazilian R. microplus and from an Australian cattle tick that has recently been taxonomically designated as Rhipicephalus australis after previously being considered R. microplus. The sequence divergence of the Texas and Australia ticks is much higher than the divergence between the Texas and Brazil ticks. This is consistent with the idea that the Australian ticks are distinct from the R. microplus of the Americas. Published by Elsevier B.V.


July 7, 2019  |  

Acetylcholinesterase 1 in populations of organophosphate-resistant North American strains of the cattle tick, Rhipicephalus microplus (Acari: Ixodidae).

Rhipicephalus microplus, the cattle fever tick, is a global economic problem to the cattle industry due to direct infestation of cattle and pathogens transmitted during feeding. Cattle fever tick outbreaks continue to occur along the Mexico-US border even though the tick has been eradicated from the USA. The organophosphate (OP) coumaphos targets acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and is the approved acaricide for eradicating cattle fever tick outbreaks. There is evidence for coumaphos resistance developing in cattle ticks in Mexico, and OP-resistant R. microplus ticks were discovered in outbreak populations of Texas in 2005. The molecular basis of coumaphos resistance is not known, and our study was established to gather further information on whether AChE1 is involved in the resistance mechanism. We also sought information on allele diversity in tick populations with different levels of coumaphos resistance. The overarching project goal was to define OP resistance-associated gene mutations such that a DNA-based diagnostic assay could be developed to assist the management of resistance. Three different AChE transcripts have been reported in R. microplus, and supporting genomic and transcriptomic data are available at CattleTickBase. Here, we report the complete R. microplus AChE1 gene ascertained by sequencing a bacterial artificial chromosome clone containing the entire coding region and the flanking 5′ and 3′ regions. We also report AChE1 sequences of larval ticks from R. microplus strains having different sensitivities to OP. To accomplish this, we sequenced a 669-bp region of the AChE1 gene corresponding to a 223 amino acid region of exon 2 to assess alleles in seven strains of R. microplus with varying OP resistance phenotypes. We identified 72 AChE1 sequence variants, 2 of which are strongly associated with OP-resistant phenotypes. Esterase-like sequences from the R. microplus transcriptome RmiTr Version 1.0 were compared to the available sequence databases to identify other transcripts with similarity to AChE1.


July 7, 2019  |  

Structure of the type IV secretion system in different strains of Anaplasma phagocytophilum.

Anaplasma phagocytophilum is an intracellular organism in the Order Rickettsiales that infects diverse animal species and is causing an emerging disease in humans, dogs and horses. Different strains have very different cell tropisms and virulence. For example, in the U.S., strains have been described that infect ruminants but not dogs or rodents. An intriguing question is how the strains of A. phagocytophilum differ and what different genome loci are involved in cell tropisms and/or virulence. Type IV secretion systems (T4SS) are responsible for translocation of substrates across the cell membrane by mechanisms that require contact with the recipient cell. They are especially important in organisms such as the Rickettsiales which require T4SS to aid colonization and survival within both mammalian and tick vector cells. We determined the structure of the T4SS in 7 strains from the U.S. and Europe and revised the sequence of the repetitive virB6 locus of the human HZ strain.Although in all strains the T4SS conforms to the previously described split loci for vir genes, there is great diversity within these loci among strains. This is particularly evident in the virB2 and virB6 which are postulated to encode the secretion channel and proteins exposed on the bacterial surface. VirB6-4 has an unusual highly repetitive structure and can have a molecular weight greater than 500,000. For many of the virs, phylogenetic trees position A. phagocytophilum strains infecting ruminants in the U.S. and Europe distant from strains infecting humans and dogs in the U.S.Our study reveals evidence of gene duplication and considerable diversity of T4SS components in strains infecting different animals. The diversity in virB2 is in both the total number of copies, which varied from 8 to 15 in the herein characterized strains, and in the sequence of each copy. The diversity in virB6 is in the sequence of each of the 4 copies in the single locus and the presence of varying numbers of repetitive units in virB6-3 and virB6-4. These data suggest that the T4SS should be investigated further for a potential role in strain virulence of A. phagocytophilum.


July 7, 2019  |  

Genome scaffolding and annotation for the pathogen vector Ixodes ricinus by ultra-long single molecule sequencing.

Global warming and other ecological changes have facilitated the expansion of Ixodes ricinus tick populations. Ixodes ricinus is the most important carrier of vector-borne pathogens in Europe, transmitting viruses, protozoa and bacteria, in particular Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu lato), the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis, the most prevalent vector-borne disease in humans in the Northern hemisphere. To faster control this disease vector, a better understanding of the I. ricinus tick is necessary. To facilitate such studies, we recently published the first reference genome of this highly prevalent pathogen vector. Here, we further extend these studies by scaffolding and annotating the first reference genome by using ultra-long sequencing reads from third generation single molecule sequencing. In addition, we present the first genome size estimation for I. ricinus ticks and the embryo-derived cell line IRE/CTVM19.235,953 contigs were integrated into 204,904 scaffolds, extending the currently known genome lengths by more than 30% from 393 to 516 Mb and the N50 contig value by 87% from 1643 bp to a N50 scaffold value of 3067 bp. In addition, 25,263 sequences were annotated by comparison to the tick’s North American relative Ixodes scapularis. After (conserved) hypothetical proteins, zinc finger proteins, secreted proteins and P450 coding proteins were the most prevalent protein categories annotated. Interestingly, more than 50% of the amino acid sequences matching the homology threshold had 95-100% identity to the corresponding I. scapularis gene models. The sequence information was complemented by the first genome size estimation for this species. Flow cytometry-based genome size analysis revealed a haploid genome size of 2.65Gb for I. ricinus ticks and 3.80 Gb for the cell line.We present a first draft sequence map of the I. ricinus genome based on a PacBio-Illumina assembly. The I. ricinus genome was shown to be 26% (500 Mb) larger than the genome of its American relative I. scapularis. Based on the genome size of 2.65 Gb we estimated that we covered about 67% of the non-repetitive sequences. Genome annotation will facilitate screening for specific molecular pathways in I. ricinus cells and provides an overview of characteristics and functions.


July 7, 2019  |  

Multiple and diverse vsp and vlp sequences in Borrelia miyamotoi, a hard tick-borne zoonotic pathogen.

Based on chromosome sequences, the human pathogen Borrelia miyamotoi phylogenetically clusters with species that cause relapsing fever. But atypically for relapsing fever agents, B. miyamotoi is transmitted not by soft ticks but by hard ticks, which also are vectors of Lyme disease Borrelia species. To further assess the relationships of B. miyamotoi to species that cause relapsing fever, I investigated extrachromosomal sequences of a North American strain with specific attention on plasmid-borne vsp and vlp genes, which are the underpinnings of antigenic variation during relapsing fever. For a hybrid approach to achieve assemblies that spanned more than one of the paralogous vsp and vlp genes, a database of short-reads from next-generation sequencing was supplemented with long-reads obtained with real-time DNA sequencing from single polymerase molecules. This yielded three contigs of 31, 16, and 11 kb, which each contained multiple and diverse sequences that were homologous to vsp and vlp genes of the relapsing fever agent B. hermsii. Two plasmid fragments had coding sequences for plasmid partition proteins that differed from each other from paralogous proteins for the megaplasmid and a small plasmid of B. miyamotoi. One of 4 vsp genes, vsp1, was present at two loci, one of which was downstream of a candiate prokaryotic promoter. A limited RNA-seq analysis of a population growing in the blood of mice indicated that of the 4 different vsp genes vsp1 was the one that was expressed. The findings indicate that B. miyamotoi has at least four types of plasmids, two or more of which bear vsp and vlp gene sequences that are as numerous and diverse as those of relapsing fever Borrelia. The database and insights from these findings provide a foundation for further investigations of the immune responses to this pathogen and of the capability of B. miyamotoi for antigenic variation.


July 7, 2019  |  

Transcriptional profiling the 150 kb linear megaplasmid of Borrelia turicatae suggests a role in vector colonization and initiating mammalian infection.

Adaptation is key for survival as vector-borne pathogens transmit between the arthropod and vertebrate, and temperature change is an environmental signal inducing alterations in gene expression of tick-borne spirochetes. While plasmids are often associated with adaptation, complex genomes of relapsing fever spirochetes have hindered progress in understanding the mechanisms of vector colonization and transmission. We utilized recent advances in genome sequencing to generate the most complete version of the Borrelia turicatae 150 kb linear megaplasmid (lp150). Additionally, a transcriptional analysis of open reading frames (ORFs) in lp150 was conducted and identified regions that were up-regulated during in vitro cultivation at tick-like growth temperatures (22°C), relative to bacteria grown at 35°C and infected murine blood. Evaluation of the 3′ end of lp150 identified a cluster of ORFs that code for putative surface lipoproteins. With a microbe’s surface proteome serving important roles in pathogenesis, we confirmed the ORFs expression in vitro and in the tick compared to spirochetes infecting murine blood. Transcriptional evaluation of lp150 indicates the plasmid likely has essential roles in vector colonization and/or initiating mammalian infection. These results also provide a much needed transcriptional framework to delineate the molecular mechanisms utilized by relapsing fever spirochetes during their enzootic cycle.


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