By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We love to hate ticks. They creep on our skin, gorge themselves on our blood and transmit some ugly disease.

So, Millie from Columbia Heights wants to know: What are ticks good for?

“The goodness about them lies in their very large salivary glands,” says Ulrike Munderloh, a tick researcher at the University of Minnesota.

Munderloh says the pathogens ticks carry can teach researchers about how cells work by travelling into the cells and knocking out specific pathways.

For example, anaplasmosis — a pathogen transmitted from the black-legged tick — can help researchers understand how the cells defend themselves.

That information can help in the fight against other diseases.

(credit: CBS)

Munderloh also points out the saliva of ticks has blood-clotting, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine substances in it, which can help researchers try to develop better medicines for people with allergies.

One of Muderloh’s colleagues call tick saliva a “tick pharmacy.”

Ticks are also predators in the traditional predator/pathogen/parasite relationship with animals. For example, the diseases ticks spread could take out a weak moose or deer.

“It makes the whole herd strong,” she said. “There’s this balance where the weak ones drop out and the strong ones get to survive and pass on their genes.”

There are some things that eat ticks — like fire ants or some kinds of birds — but Munderloh says the species are few and far between.

Ultimately, she does not believe the good parts of ticks outweigh the bad parts, but that ticks will continue to survive. They have been around since the dinosaur era and will likely live long past humans.

She recommends people always check themselves after going to an area with ticks. Take a shower to wash them off before they latch on, and put clothes in the dryer. The heat will kill the ticks.

Heather Brown