Fighting Lyme disease with gene editing

By Genevieve Rajewski

The West Coast has earthquakes and forest fires, the Midwest has tornados, and the South has hurricanes. “But here in the Northeast,” said Kevin Esvelt, an evolutionary biologist at the MIT Media Lab. “Lyme disease is our natural disaster.” More than 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with it each year.

Although humans catch Lyme disease after being bitten by black-legged ticks that feed on deer late in life, the path to infection begins when the ticks contract the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi from feeding on infected wild white-footed mice. Now Esvelt, and his team of researchers from MIT and Cummings School, are using new CRISPR genome-editing technology to create white-footed mice immune to the bacterium. The mice will then be deployed as frontline soldiers in the war against Lyme on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts islands with some of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country.

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