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Rollins, Robert E.; Sato, Kozue; Nakao, Minoru; Tawfeeq, Mohammed T.; Herrera-Mesias, Fernanda; Pereira, Ricardo J.; Kovalev, Sergey; Margos, Gabriele; Fingerle, Volker; Kawabata, Hiroki and Becker, Noemie S. (2022): Out of Asia? Expansion of Eurasian Lyme borreliosis causing genospecies display unique evolutionary trajectories. In: Molecular Ecology, Vol. 32, No. 4: pp. 786-799 [PDF, 3MB]


Vector-borne pathogens exist in obligate transmission cycles between vector and reservoir host species. Host and vector shifts can lead to geographic expansion of infectious agents and the emergence of new diseases in susceptible individuals. Three bacterial genospecies (Borrelia afzelii, Borrelia bavariensis, and Borrelia garinii) predominantly utilize two distinct tick species as vectors in Asia (Ixodes persuicatus) and Europe (Ixodes ricinus). Through these vectors, the bacteria can infect various vertebrate groups (e.g., rodents, birds) including humans where they cause Lyme borreliosis, the most common vector-borne disease in the Northern hemisphere. Yet, how and in which order the three Borrelia genospecies colonized each continent remains unclear including the evolutionary consequences of this geographic expansion. Here, by reconstructing the evolutionary history of 142 Eurasian isolates, we found evidence that the ancestors of each of the three genospecies probably have an Asian origin. Even so, each genospecies studied displayed a unique substructuring and evolutionary response to the colonization of Europe. The pattern of allele sharing between continents is consistent with the dispersal rate of the respective vertebrate hosts, supporting the concept that adaptation of Borrelia genospecies to the host is important for pathogen dispersal. Our results highlight that Eurasian Lyme borreliosis agents are all capable of geographic expansion with host association influencing their dispersal;further displaying the importance of host and vector association to the geographic expansion of vector-borne pathogens and potentially conditioning their capacity as emergent pathogens.

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