By Ygal Kaufman
Lyme disease has been observed in humans for roughly 350 years, but has only become a widely accepted and treated illness in the last 40. Caused by spirochetal bacteria carried by ticks, it’s the most frequently contracted tick-borne disease in the United States. Now researchers at OSU claim to have discovered evidence that the bacteria that causes the disease may have been around for a long time.
More than 15 million years.
In findings recently published in the journal Historical Biology, OSU researchers found evidence of Borrelia, a bacteria that causes Lyme disease, in 15- to 20-million-year-old ticks preserved in amber. If this sounds like the plot of a sequel to Jurassic Park, it’s because you watch too many movies. But it is pretty amazing, and is almost unbelievably not even the oldest disease they found lurking in the amber; another study published by the OSU team found “Rickettsial-like cells” (which are not related to rickets) in preserved ticks that were 100 million years old.
These findings have serious implications in the fight against tick-borne illnesses, which in North America are far more dangerous to us than the diseases carried by other insects. Unlike mosquito-borne sicknesses like malaria, which are more serious in other parts of the world, ticks carry diseases, including but not limited to Lyme, which affect a wide range of species and are frequently a complete mystery to doctors.
No word yet on the possible effects these findings will have on the also ancient cooties outbreaks that have long plagued our elementary schools.