UMMS Affiliation

Program in Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology; Program in Molecular Medicine; Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Publication Date


Document Type



Bacteria | Bacterial Infections and Mycoses | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Genomics | Investigative Techniques | Pathogenic Microbiology


The prevalence of tickborne diseases worldwide is increasing virtually unchecked due to the lack of effective control strategies. The transmission dynamics of tickborne pathogens are influenced by the tick microbiome, tick co-infection with other pathogens, and environmental features. Understanding this complex system could lead to new strategies for pathogen control, but will require large-scale, high-resolution data. Here, we introduce Project Acari, a citizen science-based project to assay, at single-tick resolution, species, pathogen infection status, microbiome profile, and environmental conditions of tens of thousands of ticks collected from numerous sites across the United States. In the first phase of the project, we collected more than 2,400 ticks wild-caught by citizen scientists and developed high-throughput methods to process and sequence them individually. Applying these methods to 192 Ixodes scapularis ticks collected in a region with a high incidence of Lyme disease, we found that 62% were colonized by Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme disease pathogen. In contrast to previous reports, we did not find an association between the microbiome diversity of a tick and its probability of carrying B. burgdorferi. However, we did find undescribed associations between B. burgdorferi carriage and the presence of specific microbial taxa within individual ticks. Our findings underscore the power of coupling citizen science with high-throughput processing to reveal pathogen dynamics. Our approach can be extended for massively parallel screening of individual ticks, offering a powerful tool to elucidate the ecology of tickborne disease and to guide pathogen-control initiatives.


citizen science, disease transmission, genomics, host-pathogen, lyme disease, microbiome, tick vector, tickborne disease

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Copyright © 2020 Chauhan, McClure, Hekman, Marsh, Bailey, Daniels, Genereux and Karlsson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

DOI of Published Version



Chauhan G, McClure J, Hekman J, Marsh PW, Bailey JA, Daniels RF, Genereux DP, Karlsson EK. Combining Citizen Science and Genomics to Investigate Tick, Pathogen, and Commensal Microbiome at Single-Tick Resolution. Front Genet. 2020 Jan 21;10:1322. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2019.01322. PMID: 32038704; PMCID: PMC6985576. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Frontiers in genetics

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.