Background: The controversy surrounding the potential impact of birds in spirochete transmission dynamics and their capacity to serve as a reservoir has existed for a long time. The majority of analyzed bird species are able to infect larval ticks with Borrelia. Dispersal of infected ticks due to bird migration is a key to the establishment of new foci of Lyme borreliosis. The dynamics of infection in birds supports the mixing of different species, the horizontal exchange of genetic information, and appearance of recombinant genotypes. Methods. Four Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato strains were cultured from Ixodes minor larvae and four strains were isolated from Ixodes minor nymphs collected from a single Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). A multilocus sequence analysis that included 16S rRNA, a 5S-23S intergenic spacer region, a 16S-23S internal transcribed spacer, flagellin, p66, and ospC separated 8 strains into 3 distinct groups. Additional multilocus sequence typing of 8 housekeeping genes, clpA, clpX, nifS, pepX, pyrG, recG, rplB, and uvrA was used to resolve the taxonomic status of bird-associated strains. Results: Results of analysis of 14 genes confirmed that the level of divergence among strains is significantly higher than what would be expected for strains within a single species. The presence of cross-species recombination was revealed: Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto housekeeping gene nifS was incorporated into homologous locus of strain, previously assigned to B. americana. Conclusions: Genetically diverse Borrelia strains are often found within the same tick or same vertebrate host, presenting a wide opportunity for genetic exchange. We report the cross-species recombination that led to incorporation of a housekeeping gene from the B. burgdorferi sensu stricto strain into a homologous locus of another bird-associated strain. Our results support the hypothesis that recombination maintains a majority of sequence polymorphism within Borrelia populations because of the re-assortment of pre-existing sequence variants. Even if our findings of broad genetic diversity among 8 strains cultured from ticks that fed on a single bird could be the exception rather than the rule, they support the theory that the diversity and evolution of LB spirochetes is driven mainly by the host. ? 2014 Rudenko et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Rudenko, N., Golovchenko, M., Belfiore, N. M., Grubhoffer, L., & Oliver, J. H. (2014). Divergence of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato spirochetes could be driven by the host: Diversity of Borrelia strains isolated from ticks feeding on a single bird. Parasites and Vectors, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1756-3305-7-4