MADISON In June 2012, Tony Goldberg returned from one of his frequent trips to Kibale National Park, an almost 500-square-mile forest in western Uganda where he studies how infectious diseases spread and evolve in the wild. But he didn't return alone.
"When I got back to the U.S., I realized I had a stowaway," says Goldberg, professor of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and associate director for research in the UW-Madison Global Health Institute. "When you first realize you have a tick up your nose, it takes a lot of willpower not to claw your face off."
But Goldberg is an old pro when it comes to nose ticks (this was not his first) and, after all, scientists are trained to be objective and rational. He calmly removed the tick with the aid of a long forceps, flashlight, and mirror, and put it in the freezer in a sealed tube to await further study.
Thankfully, the tick was intact enough post-yanking for DNA sequencing, a process that determines the exact order of nucleotides in a DNA molecule the genetic signature of a living organism. Goldberg worked with Sarah Hamer, a colleague at Texas A&M University, to sequence the tick's DNA and consulted with Lorenza Beati-Ziegler, curator of the U.S. National Tick Collection at Georgia Southern University, and neither could match the sequence with any species of tick in any database.
"Either it's a species of tick that is known but has never been sequenced, or it's a new species of tick," says Goldberg, who chronicled the discovery with his co-authors in the current (Sept. 30, 2013) online issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Goldberg's stowaway is not the first documented case of a Ugandan nose tick hitching a ride with humans, and others have speculated that these ticks normally infest chimpanzees, which are common in the park. Intrigued, Goldberg enlisted the help of Richa
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University of Wisconsin-Madison