New tickborne disease bacteria discovered with advanced technology

Scientist placing metal plate with clinical samples into a device

NCEZID scientists have discovered two tickborne bacteria not previously known to cause illness in people. The team used an advanced genomic sequencing technology called 16S metagenomics that can precisely identify bacterial genes in clinical samples, like blood. Analyzing them with standard technology is more painstaking and less productive.

The 16S metagenomic technology enabled the team to analyze, with a single evaluation, over 13,000 samples collected by medical partners from people suspected of having a tickborne illness. The team found 12 tickborne bacteria species that cause illness, including the two new bacteria. The advanced technology identified twice as many tickborne bacteria among the tested samples as compared to initial testing using standard diagnostic tools.

The 16S metagenomics technology is a form of Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD). NCEZID scientists are using another AMD method that reveals key molecules in other tickborne bacteria that are challenging to study. The team is combining technologies to take stock of tickborne germs and ticks that spread them, and it is building a database to track the spread of both across the country. It’s the first database of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.