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Mol Ecol. 2008 Oct;17(19):4371-81.

Microbial communities and interactions in the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


To quantify microbial composition and interactions, we identified prokaryotic communities in the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) based on 16S rRNA gene sequences and direct probing. The lone star tick is the vector of emerging diseases and host to additional symbionts of unknown activity, and is representative of other blood-sucking arthropods. We evaluated the potential for vertical (transovarial) transmission by molecular analysis of microbial symbionts from egg and larval clutches. Direct probing of adults (N = 8 populations from the southeastern and midwestern USA, 900 ticks total) revealed three vertically transmitted symbionts: a Coxiella symbiont occurred at 100% frequency, Rickettsia species occurred in 45-61% of all ticks in every population and an Arsenophonus symbiont occurred in 0-90% of ticks per population. Arsenophonus and Rickettsia exhibited significant heterogeneity in frequency among populations. The human pathogens Ehrlichia chafeensis and Borrelia lonestari were rare in most populations. Additional microbes were detected sporadically. Most ticks (78%) were co-infected by two or three microbes but statistical analysis indicated no significant deviation from random co-occurrence. Our findings indicate that microbial communities within lone star ticks are diverse, and suggest that direct probing for a wider range of prokaryotes and application of quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) may provide further insights into microbial interactions within disease vectors. Our results also emphasize the close phylogenetic relationship between tick symbionts and human pathogens, and consistent differences in their prevalence.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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