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Lyme Disease Origin

Lyme disease origin-Borrelia_genome

Mapping the Lyme Disease Bacteria's Genome.

The Lyme disease origin is somewhat unknown and, whilst remaining a mystery, there has been considerable speculation regarding the evolution of the Lyme disease bacteria. For many years the prevailing hypothesis has been that Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, originated in North America but, more recently, researchers have discovered that the Borrelia bacteria actually originated in Europe before the Ice Age. Scientists at Bath University in England looked at the evolution of bacteria and ticks and eight specific genes, called housekeeping genes, which evolve very slowly. From 64 samples analyzed, the researchers found 33 different combinations of housekeeping genes which appears to demonstrate that the bacteria has been around and evolving for a very long time.

Novel Science Quashes Conspiracy Theories

The scientific discovery of the apparent origins of Lyme disease bacteria is unlikely to silence conspiracy theorists who view the condition as representative of much more sinister forces at work than simple nature and evolution. Those researchers at Bath University used a novel technique to analyze the genetic make-up of the bacteria and then construct a family tree based on the molecular information gleaned from the analysis. The project, which was led by Dr. Klaus Kurtenbach, resulted in the discovery that the family trees of European and North American Borrelia differed significantly. The researchers found that the European bacteria appeared to have a common ancestry and that the bacterium predates the first human inhabitants of North America. The spread of woodland across certain areas of the US, as well as the rise in monocultures which may favor tick populations in some circumstances is thought to be the cause of the recent reemergence of the infections.

Old Lyme Cases

Lyme disease outbreaks, such as the one in the 1970s that prompted the infection’s classification, are thought to be related to the rapid expansion of tick habitat, possibly through the restoration of woodland areas. The disease has been detailed previously however, with historical medical accounts supporting the idea that unidentified Lyme disease cases have occurred on and off throughout the centuries with symptoms such as erythema migrans (the Lyme disease rash), and other Lyme disease symptoms. The infection is a growing issue in Europe and Asia, with countries at a more northerly latitude finding that the effects of climate change are allowing tick populations to spread and become stronger. In North America, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease and it was here, in Old Lyme, Connecticut, where the condition was first classified. Understanding more about the origins of Lyme disease may allow researchers to determine how it spreads, how it mutates, and the extent to which the vector-borne disease may be controlled or eliminated.

Continue Reading –> The Lyme Disease Origin Conspiracy Theory


Margos G et al. MLST of housekeeping genes captures geographic population structure and suggests a European origin of Borrelia burgdorferi. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2008;105(25):8730-8735