Why Lyme Disease Is So Variable

by ProfKeith

You know I write IN DEPTH about individual biochemical variation, due to many complex gene variable factors. We call these minor variations single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs or “snips” for short). It’s never enough to grow two heads but it could mean the difference between being able to tolerate tomatoes or not!

Individual genetic variations account for the fact that disease manifestation also varies. One person may go down heavily with the flu, even die, while someone else gets little more than a mild head cold.

But it takes a shift of thinking to realize that SNPs in pathogens can also cause variations in how disease manifests: same pathogen but different virulence. This has emerged as a critical factor in the way Lyme disease is so variable. I’m sure we will be seeing and hearing more about SNPs in pathogens in future.

In October 2010, a team of scientists published the sequences of the genomes of 13 strains of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. To my knowledge, it’s the first time investigators have begun to think this way.

For patients the payoff could be great. In the past, scientists have had to develop diagnostic tests and vaccines without information from the genomes. But now we should begin to see new tests and treatments, based on the bacterial and human genomic data.

It might even become possible to design vaccines which don’t interact with the human body at all, just the pathogens!

Of course we would still like assurances that such vaccines were “clean” before we’d allow them in our bodies, wouldn’t we? Ya all listenin’ at Baxter’s?

[The work was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases]

If you want to see a long, whiney video (way too long and w-a-a-y too whiney for me, I quit part way through), go here:



Chris March 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

It’s unfortunate that you didn’t watch to the end. That’s where the parts that I think you would have found the most interesting (and useful) were.

ProfKeith March 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Well ask them to edit it and take out the dross Chris.

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