Robert S. Lane

Professor of the Graduate School

R. Lane (9-16-13)  2

Research Interests

Medical entomology, parasitology, tick-borne diseases

Research Description

We have been studying the ecology, epidemiology and prevention of tick-borne diseases, particularly the spirochete (bacterium) that causes Lyme disease (LD). LD currently is the most commonly reported vector-borne infection United States, and in other temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The broad objectives of this research are intended to clarify the transmission cycles of the LD spirochete and other emerging bacterial disease agents; to determine what behavioral and environmental factors place people at elevated risk for acquiring the LDS and other tick-borne infections; and to evaluate control methodologies for reducing such risk.

Professional Activities Update (10-31-12)

I retired from my Cal faculty position in 2010, though since then I have remained active professionally as a Professor of the Graduate School.  My activities have included teaching freshman seminars and a graduate course, while continuing long-term research on the ecology, epidemiology and prevention of tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease (LD).  This bacterial infection is by far the most commonly reported arthropod-borne infection (i.e., among those transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes or fleas) in the United States and parts of Europe and Asia.

A few of our recent research highlights were clarifying the role of over 50 bird species in the ecology of the LD spirochete (a spiral-shaped bacterium) in northwestern California, determining what ecological and other factors are responsible for the dearth of human cases in southern California (versus northern California, where the disease is rife in some rural communities), and investigating what species or strains of LD-group spirochetes infect people and cause clinical illness in Mendocino County.  Locally, we are studying the genetic diversity of LD spirochetes in ticks and small mammals in Alameda County.  The molecular studies, capably performed by Natalia Fedorova, yielded several species of spirochetes, two of which previously were unknown from North America.

Sudden Oak Death (SOD), caused by an exotic, fungal-like pathogen, is a scourge of oaks and other trees in coastal California and Oregon.  To date, it has killed hundreds of thousands of native oaks, tanoaks and other trees since its first recognition in the 1990s.  We discovered that SOD reduces one index of disease risk, nymphal (i.e., one of two juvenile stages)-tick infection prevalence, which suggests that SOD may reduce LD risk in some coastal woodlands.  This collaborative project, which formed the basis of Andrea Swei’s Ph.D. dissertation research at Cal, was supported by an NSF grant awarded Richard Ostfeld, Cheryl Briggs and me.

This year, I delivered the opening address at a special educational and scientific conference in Poland that focused primarily on LD and targeted foresters.   Forestry is a major industry in Poland and, in Europe generally, forestry workers comprise the workforce at greatest risk of exposure to infected ticks.  A manual composed of contributed papers was assembled, and is being distributed to foresters countrywide to inform them about the hazards of tick exposure.

Internationally, I have served as a member of the Council for the International Congresses of Entomology for many years.  The council is made up of elected entomologists including several from the United States, and is charged with the responsibility of organizing the International Congresses of Entomology that are held every four years.  At the recent Congress held in Daegu, South Korea, I was elected an Honorary Member of the Council for my contributions to medical entomology and service as a council member.

In concluding, I would like to gratefully acknowledge the many past and present members of my research team at Cal including undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and technicians, as well as my numerous collaborators at other institutions in the United States and abroad, for their much appreciated and highly valued contributions to our body of work.

Current Projects

Several ongoing projects are aimed at expanding our knowledge of the relationship of various isolates of LD spirochetes (and other emerging tick-borne disease agents in the bacterial genera Anaplasma, Bartonella, Borrelia, and Ehrlichia) to their vectors and vertebrate hosts. Spirochetes isolated from ticks and wildlife are being characterized antigenically and genetically, and the infectivity of selected isolates for vertebrates and ticks evaluated. The ability of human and nonhuman-biting ticks to acquire, maintain and transmit the LD spirochete, and the role of lizards, birds and mammals in perpetuating it have been and still are being assessed both experimentally and in the field. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contribute to the vector efficiency of different ticks and to the reservoir competence of mammals also are being studied.

Another current focus of my research program is to elucidate biotic and abiotic factors that elevate the risk of human exposure to vector ticks in endemic areas of northern California, particularly in dense woodlands and mixed hardwood forests. These studies are being conducted in wildland and recreational areas, and in peri-domestic settings in both rural and semi-rural communities endemic for LD. It is anticipated that these investigations will clarify various ecological and epidemiological factors that place humans at heightened risk of exposure to the LDS and other emerging tick-borne infections at different spatial scales, and enable us to develop predictive models to assess LD risk at both the county and state levels by means of remote sensing and ground-truthing ecological studies.

The ultimate goal of this research is to use the basic knowledge gleaned from the foregoing projects to develop and implement strategies for reducing human exposure to tick-borne disease agents. To this end, several host-targeted methods for disseminating environmentally safe pesticides to rodent reservoir hosts of the LD spirochete already have been assessed. One method, the delivery of an oil-based formulation of permethrin to wood rats, has shown considerable promise for reducing populations of both vector ticks and fleas infesting this reservoir host.

Selected Publications

Lane, R. S., Mun, J., Peribáñez, M. A., and Fedorova, N. 2010. Differences in prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi and Anaplasma spp. infection among host-seeking Dermacentor occidentalis, Ixodes pacificus and Ornithodoros coriaceus ticks in northwestern California. Ticks Tick-Borne Dis. 1: 159-167.

Margos, G., Hojgaard, A., Lane, R. S., Cornet, M., Fingerle, V., Rudenko, N., Ogden, N., Aanensen, D. M., Fish, D., and Piesman, J. 2010. Multilocus sequence analysis of Borrelia bissettii strains from North America reveals a new Borrelia species, Borrelia kurtenbachii. Ticks Tick-Borne Dis. 1: 151-158.

Girard, Y. A., Travinsky, B., Schotthoefer, A., Fedorova, N., Eisen, R. J., Eisen, L., Barbour, A. G., and Lane, R. S. 2009. Population structure of the Lyme borreliosis spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi in the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) in northern California. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 75: 7243-7252.

Eisen, L., Eisen, R. J., Mun, J., Salkeld, D. J., and Lane, R. S. 2009. Transmission cycles of Borrelia burgdorferi and B. bissettii in relation to habitat type in northwestern California. J. Vector Ecol. 34: 81-91.

Salkeld, D. J., Leonhard, S., Girard, Y. A., Hahn, N., Mun, J., Padgett, K. A., and Lane, R. S. 2008. Identifying the reservoir hosts of the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi in California: the role of the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus). Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg. 79:535-540.

Lane, R. S., Mun, J., Peribáñez, M. A., and Stubbs, H. A. 2007. Host-seeking behavior of Ixodes pacificus (Acari: Ixodidae) nymphs in relation to environmental parameters in dense woodland and woodland-grass habitats. J. Vector Ecol. 32: 342-357.

Eisen, R. J., Lane, R. S., Fritz, C. L, and Eisen, L. 2006. Spatial patterns of Lyme disease risk in California based on disease incidence data and modeling of vector-tick exposure. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg. 75: 669-676.

Lane, R. S., Mun, J., Eisen, R. J., and Eisen, L. 2005. Western gray squirrel (Rodentia: Sciuridae): A primary reservoir host of Borrelia burgdorferi in Californian oak woodlands? J. Med. Entomol. 42: 388-396.

Lane, R. S., Steinlein, D. B., and Mun, J. 2004. Human behaviors elevating exposure to Ixodes pacificus (Acari: Ixodidae) nymphs and their associated bacterial zoonotic agents in a hardwood forest. J. Med. Entomol. 41: 239-248.

Gray, J. S., Kahl, O., Lane, R. S., and Stanek, G. 2002. Lyme borreliosis: Biology, epidemiology and control. CABI Publishing. Oxon, United Kingdom.

  • 248C - Seminar in Parasitology

Contact Information


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Office Phone: 510-642-4385

Fax: 510-642-7428

Mailing Address

Dept of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management
UC Berkeley
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Berkeley, CA 94720