Adela Chavez, AgriLife Research entomologist and assistant professor, received $530,405 received a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant directed at creating new ways to prevent tick infestations and protect Texas cattle from the diseases spread by cattle fever ticks.
Cattle fever ticks represent one of the greatest threats to the U.S. cattle industry. The ticks carry parasites and bacteria that cause deadly diseases, including bovine babesiosis and anaplasmosis. A few treatments but no effective vaccines exist for these diseases.
“The Texas cattle industry urgently needs new technologies to combat these ticks, and the grant-funded research at AgriLife Research responds to the needs of the industry,” said Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology.
“These studies have enormous implications not only for the cattle industry, but also for our overall biological understanding of ticks,” Kaufman said. “Novel research like this is challenging, but it is vitally important for the future of animal and human health.”
Although some vaccines have shown partial protection, Chavez said genetic differences between tick populations reduce the vaccines’ efficiency. Her project will examine the potential use of substances from tick salivary glands and midguts as vaccine candidates.
Specifically, the study will focus on small particles, called extracellular vesicles, in the salivary glands and midguts of ticks. The team will examine the extracellular vesicles for proteins that cause immune responses in cattle and deer.
The team will conduct these studies on two very different tick species, the cattle fever tick and the lone star tick. Proteins that cause immune responses will then be used to generate artificial vesicles that can be mass-produced and commercialized to create a vaccine protective against different tick species.
Effective tick vaccines will decrease the impact of ticks and tick-borne disease on cattle, Chavez said. She added that the study could also provide information applicable to other delivery systems, potentially impacting both animal and human health.
“We’re creating something new,” Chavez said. “Everything we are doing is experimental – extracting the molecules, identifying the proteins in ticks to exploit, and creating artificial vesicles to then produce a vaccine to validate. It is exciting to think about the potential, but there is much work to be done.”
This project also involves Tammi Johnson, assistant professor of wildlife disease ecology in Texas A&M’s Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management, and Don Thomas with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.
Source – Texas A&M University