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Scientists discover how ticks protect themselves from Lyme disease
Ticks have an entirely different immune system from other insects.
Finding could pave way to new interventions

How ticks can survive whilst harbouring bacteria, viruses and parasites has been unravelled by scientists at the University of Maryland.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, reveals that ticks have an entirely different immune system from other insects.

For a long time, scientists believed that the tick immune system worked in a similar way to that of mosquitoes and flies. But the researchers found that, in evolutionary terms, ticks are as far removed from insects, as humans are from fish.

"Although the two bugs are seemingly alike, it turns out that the immune system of ticks is quite distinct from insects. Our discovery clarifies the ins-and-outs of how the tick immune system fights bacteria," said senior author Dr Joao Pedra.

The reasearchers first observed that ticks do not possess crucial genes for a proper immune response. This led them to discover a new pathway that recognises three distinct bacteria: the Lyme disease pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, and two that cause rickettsial illnesses, Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma marginale.

Once the team had identified the components of a tick’s immune system, they proceeded to block the immune response with a molecular technique known as RNA interference. They also over-activated the ticks’ immune system to get rid of bacteria even more efficiently.

According to Science Daily, the team believes that discovery could have exciting implications: by manipulating the tick’s immune system, it might be possible to make ticks less vulnerable to infection. If ticks do not pick up these bacteria in the wild, then they will not be able to pass them on to humans.

“This basic science discovery is fascinating, and may pave the ground for new translational approaches that reduce the negative impact of tick-borne diseases in people,” said Dr Pedra.

More research is now underway to further understand the tick immune response. 

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Art installation uses 15,000 discarded plastic bottles

News Story 1
 London Zoo has unveiled a new art installation made from 15,000 discarded single-use plastic bottles, all of which were collected from London and its waterways. The installation, dubbed the Space of Waste, is 16ft tall and was created by the artist and architect Nick Wood. It houses information about plastic pollution and the small steps that everyone can take to tackle the issue.

Mr Wood commented: “Building this piece with ZSL was a satisfying challenge, as plastic bottles are not usually seen as a building material – recycling them into this structure, which will remain at ZSL London Zoo all summer, was a great way to turn the culprits themselves into a stark visual reminder of the worsening plastic problem in our city.” Image © David Parry/PAWIRE/ZSL 

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Strategic alliance to support development of agri-food sector

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Queen’s University Belfast have formed a new strategic alliance that will see both institutions form a research and education partnership.

Under the agreement, the organisations will pool their resources and expertise to support the development of the agri-food sector. It will work across three core themes: enabling innovation, facilitating new ways of working and partnerships.