A Tick-Slimming Secret

Reuben Kaufman and graduate student Brian Weiss have found that for females, the secret to staying slim is staying virginal. Fortunately for males, human and otherwise, this works only if you're a special type of tick. Kaufman and Weiss have isolated the engorgement factor protein (EF) in the semen of the tick family ixodidae; this protein inspires gluttony in inseminated females. They have dubbed it "voraxin,"

By | May 10, 2004

<p/>

Reuben Kaufman and graduate student Brian Weiss have found that for females, the secret to staying slim is staying virginal. Fortunately for males, human and otherwise, this works only if you're a special type of tick. Kaufman and Weiss have isolated the engorgement factor protein (EF) in the semen of the tick family ixodidae; this protein inspires gluttony in inseminated females. They have dubbed it "voraxin," from the Latin vorare, to devour.

Tick blood lust is ghastly: Some can consume up to 4,000 ml of blood. Nearly 120,000 ticks were once found on one unfortunate Canadian moose. (That species, the winter tick, hates human blood.)

EF was first postulated in 1972 when researchers irradiated male ticks and proved that even in the nonpotent ones, something was causing the females to engorge. It took modern molecular biology techniques to find out what that was. "The only thing they could have done [then] was harvest hundreds of thousands of testes and try to isolate it biochemically," says Kaufman.

The hope is that Kaufman's work may lead to a vaccine. Peter Willadsen, chief scientist of CSIRO Livestock Industries, whose research on a different species led to such a prophylactic, suggests Kaufman's work could improve its product. "A two-pronged immune attack on the tick could be much more efficacious."

Patricia Nutthall of the Oxford Center for Ecology and Hydrology cautions, "It's likely [other ticks] have a protein that produces that function, but they may not be cross-reactive antigenically .... It's certainly worth doing more tests." Kaufman intends to do just that.

- Karen Heyman

Popular Now

  1. First In Vivo Function Found for Animal Circular RNA
  2. Your Body Is Teeming with Weed Receptors
    Features Your Body Is Teeming with Weed Receptors

    And the same endocannabinoid system that translates marijuana's buzz-inducing compounds into a high plays crucial roles in health and disease outside the brain.

  3. Opinion: We Need a Replacement for Beall’s List
  4. Doctors’ Advice to Finish Antibiotics Overlooks Resistance
AAAS