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Ticks may be facing a dangerous fate. In the TICLESS project, Bioforsk, the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, is hoping to determine whether fungus can kill ticks in sheep pastures. This would also benefit future hikers.
Tick bites in sheep can lead to the disease tick-borne fever (TBF), which causes high fever and weakens the immune system. As a result of TBF, animals may become seriously ill from diseases they usually cope with. Bioforsk is therefore conducting field trials where the aim is to reduce tick populations in sheep grazing areas by using a tick pathogenic fungus called Metarhizium. Metarhizium occurs naturally in Norwegian soil and in the soils of many other countries worldwide where it has the potential to infect and kill ticks. When living organisms or “natural enemies” of a pest are utilized in order to reduce pest population levels, this is known as biological control.
Image: Infected female tick of the species, Ixodes ricinus. The fungus continues to grow inside the tick until it fills the whole body. Thereafter it extrudes out of the tick again and forms new spores on the outside of the body, which can spread to new ticks. (Credit: Karin Westrum, Bioforsk Plant Health)