Can we find bacteria within ticks to stop diseases?

Washington State University
Pullman, Washington
Open Access
DOI: 10.18258/1671
Raised of $3,000 Goal
Funded on 2/09/14
Successfully Funded
  • $3,060
  • 102%
  • Funded
    on 2/09/14

About This Project

Ticks are the #2 carrier for human pathogens and the #1 carrier for animal pathogens. They carry hundreds of bacteria and viruses, many of these result in diseases in people and animals. The good news is that ticks have good bacteria that fight off these ugly pathogens. This research aims to find an eco-friendly way to increase the good bacteria and block the harmful ones.

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What is the context of this research?

Ticks, like every living organism, has a "microbiome", which is a term to describe all of the microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi) that live within it. There are millions of microbes that live within the organism. In humans, the microbes outnumber our cells 10 to 1. The microbiome is very important and to list a few important functions:

  • Nutrient supplementation
  • Stress reduction
  • Fights pathogens
This last function is the focus of my research. There is an idea called "Exclusion Hypothesis", which illustrates how good bacteria (bacteria that don't cause disease) can actually fight off bad bacteria (ones that do cause disease).

A recent example of Exclusion Hypothesis is how researchers added a good bacteria (Wolbachia) into the microbiome of mosquitoes and this has reduced Dengue Fever.

The most important step of manipulating the microbiome is knowing what is there. We need to characterize the microbiome, so that when we manipulate it we know what has changed.

To date, there is very little work with microbiome-manipulation in ticks. This My research will address this lack of data.

My model tick will be Dermacentor andersoni or the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick. This specific tick is known to cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and also Bovine Anaplasmosis. I will focus my research on a deadly pathogenic bacteria, Anaplasma marginale, and its interaction with the bacterial microbiome.

What is the significance of this project?

Finding an eco-friendly, non-chemical way to stop ticks from causing diseases is important to everyone!

Diseases from ticks cause problems for people that enjoy hiking, camping, and even gardening at home. Really anyone that spends time outdoors is at risk for being biten by a tick.

It also causes problems in our pets, which isn't good for them and is expensive to treat.

Lastly, ticks cause serious problems for farmers. Anaplasma marginale, which is transmitted by male Dermacentor andersoni ticks, cause over $300 MILLION of damage in the cattle industry in the US alone.

My research aims to find a way to help everyone, but also keeps the health of the environment in mind. Many ways of fighting ticks is to use chemicals - which leads to resistant ticks and could have terrible consequences for our Earth.

What are the goals of the project?

Our goal are:

1. Field-collect D. andersoni ticks from multiple locations in the NW U.S. - I will use these ticks to identify the bacterial microbiome. To find a good bio-control, the target bacteria needs to be conserved over many populations.

2. Field-collect ticks from the same locations as #1 over multiple years. It is very important to know if the microbiome fluctuates over time - we need to find a bacteria that is always in the tick.

3. Knock out the conserved bacteria and analyze the tick's ability to acquire Anaplasma marginale.


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A large portion of my budget will be used for sequencing the microbiome. The price of sequencing is quickly declining, but is still expensive. To get the most data for the buck, I will be using PacBio sequencing. This new technology decreases the cost of sequencing 10-fold, while producing more data.

Meet the Team

Cory Gall
Cory Gall

Team Bio

I have extensive experience with insects and arthropods, which will allow me to handle the tick aspect of this project. Also, I have molecular biology experience, which is required for the microbiome work.

The most important aspect of this project that sets it apart from many other projects is that I have the ability to work with cattle, which is what these ticks would naturally feed on in the work.

Cory Gall

Hello everyone! My name is Cory and I'm finishing up my PhD at Washington State University. My educational background includes a Bachelors in Microbiology, a Masters in Ecology, and my Ph.D. will be in Immunology and Infectious Diseases. Additionally, I am an ARCS Fellow in the Seattle branch (

My research experiences are very broad and have bounced around. I have worked in the realm of molecular genetics, algal taxonomy, insect ecology, and infectious diseases. Additionally, I was a research fellow at the CDC in the Malaria Entomology branch.

My research interests center around medical entomology and ecology. I am specifically interested in finding eco-friendly biological control methods to fight tick-borne diseases that cause human and animal diseases.

I ran a successful crowdsourcing project in 2014, which resulted in several presentations and publications ( Recently, the following publications have been accepted/published:

Clayton KA*, Gall CA*, Mason KL, Scoles GA, and Brayton KA. "The characterization and manipulation of the Bacterial Microbiome of the Rocky Mountain Wood tick, Dermacentor andersoni." Parasites & Vectors
(2015) 8:632. DOI 10.1186/s13071-015-1245-z
*Authors contributed equally to manuscript

Gall CA, Reif KE, Mason K, Mousel M, Scoles GA,
Noh SM, and Brayton KA. “The Bacterial Microbiome of Dermacentor andersoni Ticks Influences Pathogen Susceptibility.” (The ISME Journal, In Press)

Project Backers

  • 13Backers
  • 102%Funded
  • $3,060Total Donations
  • $254.17Average Donation
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