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The Tick Microbiome Initiative, at the University of Alberta

Created in 2013, our research group focuses on the diversity of tick-associated microbes to understand interactions among microbes, their hosts, their vectors, and each other.  Collection of high quality tick samples suitable for molecular analysis is ongoing. Our tick collections include Canada-wide and international samples as well as historically important material from other labs at the University of Alberta.

Over 80 years of studying tick symbionts at the University of Alberta

The University of Alberta has had a long history of tick research. The first graduate thesis on ticks from the University of Alberta was J.D. Gregson’s 1936 MSc thesis on tick-borne diseases in western Canada. Gregson (page 88) postulated intracellular symbionts of ticks to explain   variation in toxicity of tick paralysis by Dermacentor andersoni. Gregson's work on ticks continued at the Kamloops Dominion Research Station.

Jack Brown (MSc 1942) was the Alberta public health entomologist. Recognizing the importance of tick-borne illnesses to Alberta, he ran the Alberta Rocky Mountain  Spotted Fever survey (1938-1943) and the Ectoparasite and Plague Survey (1938-1960). These surveys resulted in thousands of curated ectoparasite specimens (including ticks) that are now at the University of Alberta Strickland Museum of Entomology.

Professor Bill Samuel joined the University of Alberta in 1971 and devoted his career to understanding winter ticks (see White as a Ghost). He is known as an enthusiastic teacher and mentor to undergraduate students, graduate students, wildlife managers and the public: Bill Samuel

Professor Reuben Kaufman arrived in 1977, specializing in the physiology of tick feeding. Reuben continues to study ticks as an emeritus professor and is a member of the Tick Microbiome Initiative: Reuben Kaufman

Sarah Leo (MSc 2012) studied the population structure of winter ticks under the supervision of Professor Felix Sperling, continuing with a PhD at McGill University. Also in 2012, Daniel Fitzgerald, studying under Professors Bob Hudson and Lloyd Dosdall in the Faculty of ALES, completed a thesis on ticks from companion animals.

The Tick Microbiome Initiative builds on the strong history of tick research at the University of Alberta. The addition of modern molecular  techniques, a strength in both the Magor and Sperling labs, allows us to build on a foundation of evolutionary ecology and take advantage of  technologies available at the Molecular Biology Service Unit.