Via The Outbreak, an excellent blog in Toronto: Amber Reveals Lyme Disease Is Older than Humanity. Click through for the full post and useful links. Excerpt:
We have only known about Lyme disease since 1975, but now the discovery of an amber-encased 15-million-year-old tick has revealed that the bacteria that causes the disease has been around much, much longer than the human race. The discovery was made by George Poinar, Jr. from Oregon State University, and the findings were published in Historical Biology.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria in the genus Borrelia, which uses ticks as vectors to infect a variety of organisms. Upon infection, the disease produces flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, fever and headache. It can be easily treated with antibiotics in the earliest stages, and it is very important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Without treatment, the infection can progress and it could affect the nervous system, heart, and joints.
“Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic,” Poinar said in a press release. “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 mosquitos,” he continued. “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 study utilized four ticks that had been preserved in amber. Bacteria typically doesn’t fossilize well, but amber protects it from conditions that would otherwise destroy the colony. Poinar discovered that the ticks had large amounts of bacteria that look very much like species of Borrelia.