Nova Scotia

Tick-killing fungus research underway at N.S. university

A potential form of tick control that could limit the spread of Lyme disease is being studied at a Nova Scotia university. 

Luís Anholeto, a researcher at Acadia University in Wolfville, is examining a type of fungus that occurs naturally in soil and has been found to kill blacklegged and American dog ticks. 

Anholeto discovered that ticks, newly collected for research, were dying after coming into contact with the fungus.

Anholeto initially noticed the species of fungi known as Clonostachys rosea around Coldbrook in the Annapolis Valley. He received a grant to continue to study the fungus at Acadia’s tick research lab, which is led by Laura Ferguson, an assistant professor in the biology department. 

“Our lab is dedicated to finding innovative solutions for tick management and our focus is basically on using natural products for development of repellents,” said Anholeto, a member of the tick-centred research hub since 2023.

While the lab studies a variety of biological elements related to ticks, including how climate change is increasing their population, the research team has been determined to find different methods to control them. 

Lyme disease a tick-borne illness

The research has become particularly important since every area in the province is now deemed to be at high risk for Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria spread through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Early signs of Lyme disease may resemble a cold or flu, but it can lead to nerve pain, arthritis and memory loss in the later stages. 

The Clonostachys rosea fungus has yet to be proven as a viable method to manage the growing number of ticks.  

Nicoletta Faraone, an associate professor in Acadia’s biology department, says the fungus could provide a more sustainable approach to tick management than previous methods used to kill ticks, like synthetic acaricide sprays. 

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“These are a little harsher approaches that need to be used with discretion because they can harm beneficial insects like pollinators or other species that are good for our ecosystem,” Faraone said. “(The fungus) is environmentally sustainable.” 

But Ferguson says because little research has been done, there is no sure way of knowing that it won’t target other natural species as well. 

Anholeto, Ferguson and Faraone say they will continue to conduct more studies to determine if it can be effective in managing ticks in the province. 

How to protect yourself from Lyme disease (even if you get bitten)

There’s been a spike in Lyme disease cases, and experts say Canadians need to be more vigilant when outdoors. The National’s Adrienne Arsenault talks to Dr. Allan Grill, chief of family medicine at Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital, about the best ways to protect yourself.

“I would say there is not a magic cure that will eliminate ticks at all,” Faraone said. “But for sure we can use different little approaches that all together will make a difference.” 

It’s up to Nova Scotians to be diligent when enjoying outdoor activities, said Anholeto, who recommends using a tick repellent and thoroughly checking clothes, shoes and exposed skin for any ticks or tick bites. 

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