Scholarship code CU6.284

Tick-pathogen interactions: impact on ecology and transmission of tick-borne diseases

  • Reference person
  • Host University/Institute
    Università degli Studi di Padova
  • Internship
  • Research Keywords
    Tick-borne diseases
    Ticks genetic variability
    Vector competence
  • Reference ERCs
    LS6_8 B
    LS2_6 M
  • Reference SDGs
    GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being


Ticks are hematophagous ectoparasitic arthropods that parasitize a wide range of vertebrates, thrive in variable settings from the Arctic to the tropical regions, and transmit a greater variety of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and helminths) than any other group of arthropod vectors. Climate changes are favoring the spread of different tick species in new areas, both in terms of latitude and altitude. This results in an increase in the risk of transmission of pathogens to humans and domestic/wild animals with important socio-economic and ecological impacts. Arthropod vectorial capacity is a complex process governed by a multifaceted suite of genetic mechanisms. First, interaction with a new pathogen generally induces antimicrobial molecular activity, thereby establishing a strong vectorial resistance. Second, the novel metabolite pool resulting from the initial (and potentially recurrent) pathogenic infection may impose permanent and unique changes in the vector’s existing epigenetic landscape, thus initiating vectorial tolerance. Finally, during future infections, the newfound vectorial tolerance could usher a mutually beneficial relationship between the vector and pathogen.The research proposal is aimed at studying the vector capacity of ticks by evaluating their genomic variability in relation to functional aspects (such as the microbiome and virome) analyzing ticks collected from different Italian regions. In particular, we will focus on the identification of molecular markers of infection and factors affecting the vector capacity. Furthermore, performing experimental infections of tick cell lines and whole ticks with viral and/or bacteria models, we will characterize: i) the immune mechanisms associated to control of pathogens proliferation in ticks; ii) the putative markers of infections; iii) if the infection can increase the efficiency of the pathogen to spread in the environment modifying the behavior and fitness of infected ticks.The identification of markers of infection may lead to the development of new models for monitoring and assessing the risk of transmission of infections as well as new systems to control the spread of tick-borne diseases.

Suggested skills:

Candidates should be motivated and have skills in: i) tick-borne pathogens; ii) manipulation of microorganisms in Biosafety level 2 and 3 facilities; iii) cellular and molecular biology techniques.

Research team and environment

The research team includes experts in microbiology, parasitology and bioinformatics. The enrolled student will take part in laboratory activities inside the BSL2 and 3 facilities using the most common cellular and molecular biology techniques. He/she will have to work in a team of young and senior scholars. The ideal candidate should be also opened to learn and implement the team’s skills and competences with new approaches and ideas to tackle the objectives of the proposed research.