Ticks may be facing a dangerous fate. In the TICLESS project, Bioforsk, the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, is hoping to determine whether fungus can kill ticks in sheep pastures, according to a November 12, 2013 press release. This would also benefit future hikers. Tick bites in sheep can lead to the disease tick-borne fever (TBF), which causes high fever and weakens the immune system. As a result of TBF, animals may become seriously ill from diseases they usually cope with. Bioforsk is therefore conducting field trials where the aim is to reduce tick populations in sheep grazing areas by using a tick pathogenic fungus called Metarhizium. Metarhizium occurs naturally in Norwegian soil and in the soils of many other countries worldwide where it has the potential to infect and kill ticks. When living organisms or "natural enemies" of a pest are utilized in order to reduce pest population levels, this is known as biological control. Dr. Ingeborg Klingen, Head of the Section of Invertebrate Pests at Bioforsk Plant Health and Plant Protection Division, and her group, are currently conducting field trials with BIPESCO 5 which is a formulation of an isolate of the tick pathogenic fungus, Metarhizium. “The fungus we are using in the trial is a natural enemy of insects and mites found in soil. What we do is to increase the natural fungal population by releasing it in large quantities. This type of biological control is known as augmentation biological control and is an alternative to chemical control”, says Dr. Klingen. “The death that awaits ticks exposed to this fungus, is inhumane; fungal spores land and germinate on the skin (cuticle) of the tick and then penetrate it before entering the tick body. The fungus then grows and proliferates inside the tick.
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