Tick Preserved in Ancient Amber Reveals That Lyme Disease is Older Than Humans

Posted on May 30, 2014

Ancient Tick in Amber

Lyme disease is not a new disease despite the fact that it was only recognized by humans about 40 years ago. The disease even predates humans. A tick trapped in ancient amber 15 million years ago reveals that the disease has been around for at least 15 million years. Scientists identified a group of spirochetes (pictured below), the type that cause Lyme disease, in the tick preserved in the amber. The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University who studied Borrelia, a type of spirochete-like bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

spirochetes in tick in amber


George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science, says in the announcement, "Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic. They are very efficient at maintaining populations of microbes in their tissues, and can infect mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals. In the United States, Europe and Asia, ticks are a more important insect vector of disease than mosquitoes. They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors. It's likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease."

The research was published here in the journal, Historical Biology. IN a separate report, published in Cretaceous Research, OSU scientists also reported the first fossil record of Rickettsial-like cells, a bacteria that can cause spotted fever. Those fossils from Myanmar were found in ticks about 100 million years old.

Photos: George Poinar, Jr., courtesy of Oregon State University