Although my official title is 'Parasitologist', I would classify myself more as an evolutionary ecologist who uses host-parasite interactions to address core questions in biology. During my (many) years in post secondary education, I have had the great fortune of interacting with a number of incredible scientists/mentors who have fostered my interest in these scientific areas.
My first 'exposure' to parasites occurred while I was taking an 'elective' course in biology at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Fortunately for me, the class was taught by Dr. Tim Goater, one of the most dynamic and engaging instructors that I had ever seen. After taking a number of Tim's courses and conducting research under his guidance, I decided that science was where I wanted to be. Shortly thereafter, I switched majors (and institutions) and completed my B.Sc at the University of Victoria in 1996.
The next step was undertaking a Master's degree under Dr. Cam Goater at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. This research incorporated field and experimental approaches to better understand interactions between fathead minnows and their brain-encysting trematodes (Ornithodiplostomum ptychocheilus). Field work involved making biweekly trips to 4 remote lakes in north-central Alberta to collect both young-of-the-year and adult fathead minnows. After fish were acquired from these natural habitats, they were transferred back to the University of Lethbridge for necropsy. This work allowed us to gain an understanding of infection patterns across space and time in natural systems. As a complementary step to the field work, we initiated the life cycle of this parasite in the lab which opened up additional avenues for experimental manipulations. These included 1) assessing the impacts of parasite intensities on host morphology and parasite development, 2) investigating the interaction between parasite intensities and host nutrition on fish life history, and 3) determining the impacts of brain infections on fish behaviors. A large portion of this work was conducted with the assistance of a number of other scientists including Drs. Andy Danylchuk and Sho Shirakashi. In the summer of 1999, I defended my thesis and moved to Edmonton where I began work as a research assistant in the laboratory of Dr. Ellie Prepas at the University of Alberta.
During my year at the University of Alberta, I received an NSERC grant and traveled down to Indiana the following summer (2000) to begin a Ph.D. with Dr. Dennis Minchella at Purdue University. Shortly after starting at Purdue, I became obsessed with host life-history responses in general, and host responses to infection, in particular. This scientific interest corresponded extremely well with the previous research conducted by Dennis and other members of his lab. Addressing these questions required a model host-parasite system that could be monitored in the field and experimentally examined in the laboratory. That system turned out to be the interaction between an aquatic snail (Lymnaea elodes) and its castrating trematode, Echinostoma revolutum. Using this system allowed me to address a number of life-history related questions such as 1) Do costs of host resistance change under varying environmental conditions?; 2) Can these costs be quantified using hemolymph attributes like hemocytes and lectins?; 3) What is the breadth of life-history plasticity in hosts of different genetic backgrounds?; and 4) How does desiccation impact both host and parasite life histories in the field and in the laboratory? In addition, I became involved in a number of collaborative side projects. The first study aimed to investigate the immunological responses of aquatic snails to varying concentration of the herbicide, atrazine. This work was performed in association with Dr. Nadia Carmosini, an environmental chemist who is now a faculty member in the Chemistry Department here at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. The second side-project was designed to assess the impacts of host inbreeding and outcrossing on infection susceptibility using the tropical snail, Biomphalaria glabrata and the trematode Schistosoma mansoni, a parasite that infects hundreds of millions of humans worldwide.
Being involved in scientific research has allowed me to travel to a number of diverse places. If you would like to see some pictures from these trips click here.
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