LMU Division of Evolutionary Biology
Lyme disease is one of the most frequent zoonoses in the Northern Hemisphere. It is caused by bacteria of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato species complex transmitted from host to host by tick vectors. Other vertebrates (e.g. small mammals and birds), rather than humans, are the ecologically relevant hosts for these bacteria. Understanding the evolution of Borrelia bacteria in the context of their adaptation to their different hosts is thus crucial for the understanding of the geographical spread of the disease as well as their adaptation to the human immune system.
Our research focuses on the evolution of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato species complex, on adaptation to hosts and vectors in the different species and on the evolution of the tick vectors. We also monitor infected ticks around Munich and collaborate with ecologists to study tick infestation on birds. Genomic studies in Borrelia are a challenge because these bacteria have a very fragmented and partially redundant genome with up to 20 different plasmids. We use combinations of different next-generation sequencing techniques and many bioinformatic tools to reconstruct Borrelia genomes.
Our research is interdisciplinary and combines fieldwork, lab-work, next-generation sequencing and population genomic analyses. In our lab, one can learn how to collect ticks, identify by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) which ones are infected by Borrelia, isolate new bacterial strains, cultivate them and use a dark-field microscope to monitor them, sequence their genomes with Illumina, reconstruct their genomes using assembly and mapping techniques and use population genomics analyses to reconstruct their evolution and detect genes under selection.
Borrelia bacteria and ticks
As Borrelia bacteria are human pathogens, our lab-work has specific security rules. Students doing a project in our lab need to be trained by us and to strictly follow these rules.