What makes viruses tick?

Understanding tick activity in and around Scotland, and what viruses they are carrying

What makes viruses tick? This is the question that the Brennan Lab are hoping to answer with the help of members of the public through a new citizen science project.

“Many people will have experienced a tick-bite, whether on themselves, a loved one or perhaps on a family pet. We know that Lyme Disease is becoming a major problem here in Scotland, and can lead to severe illness if left untreated. But what about the other terrible things that ticks transmit?”, says Dr Benjamin Brennan, lead scientist on the project. “Lyme Disease is caused by a bacteria, but ticks also spread viruses and we are aiming to better understand the mechanisms behind this viral transmission.”

The Brennan Lab uses virological methods such as reverse genetics technologies and acarology to understand how clinically relevant viruses are transmitted by ticks. They seek to understand how these viruses manipulate the different cellular environments in a tick or a mammal to sustain virus replication and cause disease. 

Their research‌ focuses on a specific group of emerging viruses called Phleboviruses, found within the genus Phenuiviridae of the Bunyavirales order.

 The logo for the what makes viruses tick project. A tick with a virus for a bum holding onto a big purple ball.  

What makes viruses tick?

The “What makes viruses tick?” public engagement project aims to raise awareness of ticks and tick-borne diseases across Scotland, empowering people to make informed decisions about accessing the outdoors. 

“Scotland has seen an increase in the popularity of outdoor pursuits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic”, says Faye Watson, Engagement & Communications Coordinator. “As more people spend more time hill-walking, running or camping in the countryside, we can expect to see an increase in reports of tick bites and sightings.”

Furthermore, many people have been reporting that 2021 was one of the worst years they could remember for ticks and tick bites. It is predicted this is due to climate change causing milder winters and therefore increasing the length of time ticks are active. 

“By empowering public audiences to get involved in our project, we hope to create a map of tick populations around the country. We can then work with stakeholders in these locations to collect tick samples from the field for analysis here at the CVR”, says Dr Brennan.

The Brennan Lab will co-design this citizen science platform with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), utilizing their wealth of experience in working closely with volunteer groups across Scotland. These groups will be upskilled in how to safely identify ticks and report them through the platform. 

This project will also work with outdoor pursuits organisations, local authorities and at-risk communities across Scotland to create educational resources for schools and families, allowing people to learn more about ticks and how to keep themselves safe from being bitten. 

 

This project is conducted at the MRC University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. The pilot was supported by a grant from the Medical Research Council. Research in the Brennan lab is funded through a Wellcome Trust/Royal Society Sir Henry Dale Fellowship awarded to Dr Brennan.

Get Involved

How can I contribute to this research? 

If you are out & about this summer and either you or your dog get bitten by a tick, please take a picture of it pre-disposal (so we can ID it) and either: 

 

These locations will be added to our interactive map to help us understand where ticks are in Scotland!

(Each colour pin corresponds to what the tick was removed from: (Green = Adult, Red = Child, Pink = Dog, Blue = Cat, Brown = Wildlife, Yellow = Sighting (not bitten))