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Characterization of the Bacterial Communities of Life Stages of Free Living Lone Star Ticks (Amblyomma americanum)
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    The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is an abundant and aggressive biter of humans, domestic animals, and wildlife in the southeastern-central USA and an important vector of several known and suspected zoonotic bacterial pathogens. However, the biological drivers of bacterial community variation in this tick are still poorly defined. Knowing the community context in which tick-borne bacterial pathogens exist and evolve is required to fully understand the ecology and immunobiology of the ticks and to design effective public health and veterinary interventions. We performed a metagenomic survey of the bacterial communities of questing A. americanum and tested 131 individuals (66 nymphs, 24 males, and 41 females) from five sites in three states. Pyrosequencing was performed with barcoded eubacterial primers targeting variable 16S rRNA gene regions 5-3. The bacterial communities were dominated by Rickettsia (likely R. amblyommii) and an obligate Coxiella symbiont, together accounting for 6.7-100% of sequences per tick. DNAs from Midichloria, Borrelia, Wolbachia, Ehrlichia, Pseudomonas, or unidentified Bacillales, Enterobacteriaceae, or Rhizobiales groups were also detected frequently. Wolbachia and Midichloria significantly co-occurred in Georgia (p<0.00001), but not in other states. The significance of the Midichloria-Wolbachia co-occurrence is unknown. Among ticks collected in Georgia, nymphs differed from adults in both the composition (p = 0.002) and structure (p = 0.002) of their bacterial communities. Adults differed only in their community structure (p = 0.002) with males containing more Rickettsia and females containing more Coxiella. Comparisons among adult ticks collected in New York and North Carolina supported the findings from the Georgia collection despite differences in geography, collection date, and sample handling, implying that the differences detected are consistent attributes. The data also suggest that some members of the bacterial community change during the tick life cycle and that some sex-specific attributes may be detectable in nymphs.

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