People typically avoid pesky deer ticks at all costs. We spray repellent on our yards, on ourselves, and we even arm our pets against the tiny insects.
So why were a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire biology professor and a team of student researchers determined to collect as many deer ticks as they could from 2010-13? To inform the public about their risk of contracting Lyme disease.
In a research project recently published in the Journal of Vector Ecology, biology professor Dr. Lloyd Turtinen and student researchers Alyssa Kruger, a 2013 graduate in biochemistry/molecular biology, and Madeleine Hacker, a 2013 graduate in microbiology, studied the percentage of deer ticks that carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease.
"Conducting research with Dr. Turtinen as an undergraduate student was very important and enabled me to continue on in research," said Kruger, who is working toward a Ph.D. in human genetics at the University of Michigan. "Being able to discuss the logic and reasoning behind my undergraduate research was critical in my graduate school interviews. I think it is crucial for anyone interested in post-graduation research to pursue the research opportunities at UW-Eau Claire."
Working on faculty-student collaborative research projects was the most enjoyable and rewarding part of being a professor, said Turtinen, who retired from the UW-Eau Claire biology department in May.
"Scientifically, it was important to get this data out to a larger audience, but personally it was important for me to have my student co-authors recognized for all of their hard work," he said.
The important research Turtinen began on the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi in area deer ticks will continue at UW-Eau Claire by Dr. Evan Weiher, a professor of biology, and his students.
"People need to be aware of the danger of contracting Lyme disease in certain areas," Turtinen said. "But don't let the fear of ticks ruin your summers. Just be careful."
To learn about the Borrelia burgdorferi prevalence rates in the surrounding counties, check out a map of their findings on ticks carrying the Lyme disease bacteria, and view Turtinen's research results in a 2013 UW-Eau Claire story.
Large photo: UW-Eau Claire biology students conduct field study in Putnam Park for deer tick research.
Small photo: Dr. Lloyd Turtinen, biology, works with Madeleine Hacker (left) and Alyssa Kruger (right) on extracting DNA from a deer tick.