UAMS Researcher Awarded Grant to Study Lyme Disease

By Kelly Gardner

“Despite a lot of research, there’s still much more to be learned about how this bacterium causes Lyme disease,” said Blevins. “The bacteria live in ticks, as well as in mammals, and we are working to understand how the bacteria adapt to survive within these two very different environments.”

The goal of the research is to identify specific genes required by B. burgdorferi to live in a mammal or a tick. Through genetic manipulation, certain genes believed to help the bacteria adapt, especially during infection and transmission, can be mutated to inactivate individual genes. If the mutated bacterium then either fails to grow or cause infection, this gene is likely very important to the bacterium. Knowing the identities of these essential bacterial genes could give scientists a better understanding of how to prevent infection or treat Lyme disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is the most common infection in the United States borne by pathogens and parasites in human populations. Between 20,000 and 30,000 cases are reported every year. However, a recent study suggests that Lyme disease infection rates might be 10 times higher than previously reported.