Scientists call for public’s help to discover more about ticks

People being asked to submit photos of the small creatures to help researches understand what viruses they are carrying.

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People are being asked to submit photographs of ticks they come across as part of a project to discover what makes the tiny creatures…tick.

Scientists at the Brennan lab, based at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, want the public to help them understand more about the tiny spider-like creatures and the viruses they are carrying.

They are calling on the public to send in any photographs of ticks they find on themselves or their pets, as well as the location where they were found.

Ticks are most commonly associated with Lyme’s Disease but can also pass on a number of other viruses and researchers are focusing on a specific group of emerging viruses called Phleboviruses.

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Dr Benjamin Brennan, lead scientist on the project, said: “Many people will have experienced a tick-bite, whether on themselves, a loved one or perhaps on a family pet.

“We know that Lyme’s Disease is becoming a major problem here in Scotland, and can lead to severe illness if left untreated. But what about the other terrible things that ticks transmit?”

The Brennan Lab uses virological methods such as reverse genetics technologies and acarology to probe how clinically relevant viruses are transmitted by ticks.

They seek to understand how these viruses manipulate the different cellular environments in a tick or a mammal to sustain virus replication and cause disease. 

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Alexandra Wilson, a PhD student at the Brennan lab, said: “They [ticks] do tend to infect the same things, they all infect mammals, so it’s ‘why does a tick bite a mammal and take this virus on but say a mosquito might bite the same mammal and it doesn’t get infected?'”

It’s questions like this that the ‘What makes viruses tick?’ public engagement project is seeking to examine, along with what other viral transmission occurs within tick populations across Scotland.

Through a citizen science project, it will raise awareness of ticks and tick borne diseases occurring across the country, and encourage groups to register any sightings of ticks using the iNaturalist app.

“Scotland has seen an increase in the popularity of outdoor pursuits throughout the Covid-19 pandemic”, said Faye Watson, engagement and communications coordinator at the MRC Centre for Virus Research.

“As more people spend more time hillwalking, running or camping in the countryside, we can expect to see an increase in reports of tick bites and sightings.”

People can submit a tick sighting/photo/location by tweeting @VirusesTickCVR or emailing cvr-viruses-tick@glasgow.ac.uk.

More information and a map of the tick sightings is also available here.

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The project will also work with outdoor pursuits organisations and local authorities to create educational resources for schools and families, allowing young people to learn more about ticks and how to keep themselves safe from being bitten.

It will culminate in a two-week outreach programme as part of the Glasgow Science Festival in September 2021.