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ARS Home » Research » Research Project #444758

Research Project: Center for Tick Surveillance

Location: Research Programs

Project Number: 3022-32000-018-037-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Aug 15, 2023
End Date: Aug 14, 2026

National Center for Tick Surveillance (NCTS): Establishing a passive tick collection network for improved nationwide tick and tick-borne pathogen surveillance. The long-term objective is to establish a National Center for Tick Surveillance (NCTS), which will harness the public and private entities actively encountering ticks as a network of passive tick collectors to establish a national biobank of ticks and tick-borne pathogens. The data will be used to create a publicly accessible, searchable database on tick and tick-borne pathogen prevalence which will grow over time. The funding requested here will facilitate the establishment of the biobank database and initial population with data. It is anticipated that as it matures, the NCTS will provide the US with tick identification and testing services for a nominal fee. The concept of harnessing a passive network for tick surveillance has been very successful in Kansas and we believe it could be successfully expanded nationwide.

In Aim 1, we will build the digital tick repository using an online submission form linked to a SQL database maintained the Cooperator's facility. This work will be carried out by a graduate student enrolled at Cooperator's institute. The online submission form will include collection date, county and tick host (if any). After submission a unique tick ID will be assigned to each tick and submitters will be able to track their tick using this ID code. All identification and testing results will be manually added to the database which will be reflected on the website as a searchable database. Locality data will be publicly limited to county level and individuals will be able to search the database using drop down menus for tick species, pathogen and geographic location or combinations thereof. In addition, we will build educational sections for the different tick and tick-borne pathogens for continuing education, including a photoarchive and identification tools. Aim 2 will develop a nationwide tick collection network whereby members of the public can submit ticks for identification and testing. This will be carried out the Cooperator by expanding the existing Kansas network. Working from the success of the Kansas network, relationships with potential stakeholders similar to those in Kansas will be established. Training for proper tick removal and preservation will be provided as well as collection kits to facilitate our partners participating. Tick collection tubes containing RNA/DNA shield will be supplied to the network participants. All tick samples will be sent to KU for cataloging, identification and photographing. All data will be stored on a SQL server by Cooperator with local backups stored on hardrives. Aim 3: genetic material extraction and pathogen testing. After identification the tick is imaged with an midinfrared camera for future pathogen detection studies, then the tick will be cut along the central line into two mirrored sections, one section will be stored at -80C in the tick biobank and genetic material will be extracted from the remaining section. The extraction process will be automated through the purchase of a Qiagen QIAcube to eliminate variation and human error as much as possible and to obtain the highest quality material. Isolated material will be kept in -80C storage serving as a repository for future use. As research questions change over time, this will serve as an invaluable resource for future studies especially those requiring retrospective analysis. As DNA and RNA (converted to stable cDNA) from the whole organism will be generated, this material can be used for a number of other studies on tick-host-pathogen interactions including microbiome studies. Tick samples will be tested by real-time PCR for tick species specific pathogens using published pathogen specific primers. Data for each tick will be sent to the submitter containing the identification, stage, sex and any pathogens detected. Infrared imaging results will be correlated with PCR testing results to determine if infection status can be predicted by infrared imaging. If so, it is anticipated that this will reduce the cost for testing with time.