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Taking the Time to Understand the Uptick in Lyme


Suann Yang
Department of Biology
SUNY Geneseo


This clicker case study is based on the true story of Ella Buss, a young girl diagnosed with Lyme borreliosis (Lyme disease), one of the most frequently reported tick-borne diseases in the United States and other temperate regions of the world. Ella’s story is used to motivate students to explore the ecology of Lyme borreliosis in the hopes that such an understanding can lead to a reduction in the number of cases of the disease. Students discover how interactions between species as well as human alterations of the ecosystem expose us to the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis in the United States, the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Students use their working knowledge of species interactions and density-dependent processes to make predictions about tick and host population responses. This case study is designed for introductory biology, and could also be adapted for ecology or environmental science courses. The case can be used as a stand-alone activity or as a companion to “Failing to See the Forest for the Trees in Lyme Disease” (Bailey, 2020), another case study based on Ella’s story focusing on cell biology.


  • Explain what molecular markers are and how labeling them helps scientists visualize many cell components that are normally invisible.
  • Predict what cellular structures will become visible using fluorescent dyes and antibodies conjugated to fluorochromes.
  • Recognize programmed cell death (apoptosis) as a common consequence of infection.
  • Interpret the roles of neural cells, macroglia, and microglia in an infection response.
  • Explain how natural cellular processes of protection against disease may become dysfunctional under the challenge of a specific pathogen.
  • Interpret data from cell culture to evaluate the probable cause of induced cell death.


Lyme; Ixodes scapularis; conservation; forest fragmentation; species interactions; host-parasite; graph interpretation; Borrelia burgdorferi;

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Ecology  |   Biology (General)  |   Public Health  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Supplemental Materials

The file below is an optional student handout that conveys the case story and provides simple graph templates for students to complete.

  lyme_ella.pdf (~600 KB)

Answer Key

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