Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Lyme Disease May Predate Humans

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Lyme Disease May Predate Humans

Article excerpt

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 that cause it may have been lurking around for 15 million years--long before humans existed.

The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) who studied 15-20-million-year-old amber from the Dominican Republic that offers 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 OSU scientists announced the first fossil record of Rickettsial-like cells, a bacteria that can cause spotted fever. Those fossils from Myanmar were found in ticks about 100 million years old.

"Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic," says George Poinar Jr., a professor emeritus of biology at OSU 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. …

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