Changing DNA To Eliminate Lyme Disease: Could It Be The Answer?

eliminate Lyme disease
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A recent article in The New Yorker entitled, “Rewriting the Code of Life” focuses on an interesting idea, originating from a young MIT scientist, Kevin Esvelt. He believes a person’s DNA can be altered to make them immune to certain diseases, like cancer and Lyme disease.

As strange and futuristic as this may sound, testing has already begun.

So is this a legitimate way to eliminate Lyme disease? Here is what The New Yorker had to say:

Esvelt, who is thirty-four, directs the “sculpting evolution” group at M.I.T., where he and his colleagues are attempting to design molecular tools capable of fundamentally altering the natural world. If the residents of Nantucket agree, Esvelt intends to use those tools to rewrite the DNA of white-footed mice to make them immune to the bacteria that cause Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. He and his team would breed the mice in the laboratory and then, as an initial experiment, release them on an uninhabited island. If the number of infected ticks begins to plummet, he would seek permission to repeat the process on Nantucket and on nearby Martha’s Vineyard.

More than a quarter of Nantucket’s residents have been infected with Lyme, which has become one of the most rapidly spreading diseases in the United States. The illness is often accompanied by a red bull’s-eye rash, along with fever and chills. When the disease is caught early enough, it can be cured in most cases with a single course of antibiotics. For many people, though, pain and neurological symptoms can persist for years. In communities throughout the Northeast, the fear of ticks has changed the nature of summer itself—few parents these days would permit a child to run barefoot through the grass or wander blithely into the woods.

“What if we could wave our hands and make this problem go away?” Esvelt asked the eliminate Lyme diseasetwo dozen officials and members of the public who had assembled at the island’s police station for his presentation. He explained that white-footed mice are the principal reservoir of Lyme disease, which they pass, through ticks, to humans. “This is an ecological problem,” Esvelt said. “And we want to enact an ecological solution so that we break the transmission cycle that keeps ticks in the environment infected with these pathogens.”

There is currently no approved Lyme vaccine for humans, but there is one for dogs, which also works on mice. Esvelt and his team would begin by vaccinating their mice and sequencing the DNA of the most protective antibodies. They would then implant the genes required to make those antibodies into the cells of mouse eggs. Those mice would be born immune to Lyme. Ultimately, if enough of them are released to mate with wild mice, the entire population would become resistant. Just as critically, the antibodies in the mice would kill the Lyme bacterium in any ticks that bite them. Without infected ticks, there would be no infected people. “Take out the mice,” Esvelt told me, “and the entire transmission cycle collapses.”

I wish Kevin the best with his testing and hope the results are successful and far-reaching.

The Takeaway

In closing, this method may hold promise to eliminate Lyme disease. It has also been criticized, however. There are ethical and environmental considerations at play here.

Most importantly, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of people living the debilitating effects of Lyme each day with no relief in sight. Furthermore, they deserve immediate relief. We must keep moving towards finding a cure for Lyme disease.

What have you read about altering genetics and Lyme disease? Do you think this is a good idea or not? Please share your comments below in the comment section. I love hearing from you and will reply as soon as possible. 

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about Lyme disease you might want to check out:

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