Meghan Lybecker, assistant professor in the Biology Department, will work with two University of Montana researchers to study the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Lybecker and her team received $866,800 for the five-year project from the National Institutes of Health to better understand the bacterium to improve the diagnostic, prevention and/or treatment strategy for Lyme disease.
“It’s the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the United States and there’s not a lot known about it,” Lybecker said. “Our studies have led us to try to understand the basic genetic mechanisms that allow the bacteria to overwinter in ticks and transmit to the vertebrate hosts.”
Lybecker will work with Montana faculty members Dan Drecktrah, assistant research professor, and Scott Samuels, professor, to investigate the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. She worked with the two during her Ph.D. program.
“What I really love is to try and understand at the molecular level how these things occur,” Lydbecker said. “My passion for studying the disease started in 2001 when I first started my Ph.D. at the University of Montana and merging it with my post-doctoral fellowship work in Vienna, Austria.”
The team of researchers started last month and believe there seems to be a novel molecular mechanism for sensing the environment.
“Our overarching goal is to alleviate the human disease,” Lybecker said. “We’re at the basic end of that, but our research could lead to a diagnostic or prevention strategy.”