What is your summer research project?
My summer research project involves creating an experimental model of a multiple-host parasite system in order to study disease phenology or seasonality. A common example of this type of system is the bird-fish system in which a tapeworm parasite infects a three-spined stickleback fish which is then consumed by the belted kingfisher bird. This bird then becomes infected with the parasite and defecates into the water where the fish resides, leaving a growing parasite to once again infect more fish. This system, and many others like it, are strongly dependent on phenology or seasonality. Thus, phenology has the potential to increase or decrease transmission of the parasite depending on the life cycle of the fish and the bird. Changing seasons, which effect migration patterns and temperature for example, can impact how a parasite is transmitted as well as its virulence, effecting the entire host or multiple-host parasite system. This summer I have worked on experimentally modeling this system using bacteria and bacteriophage, the virus that infects the bacteria, in order to eventually test various aspects of seasonality on multiple-host parasite systems.
What are the implications of your research?
This research has applications to the study of disease and understanding how climate change can impact disease phenology. By modeling these disease systems and determining how phenology impacts them over hundreds of seasons, which will be possible via this model, this concept can be applied to parasites that affect humans. For example, by understanding the impact of seasonality on mosquitoes, one can better understand how climate impacts the timing of transmission of malaria from mosquitoes to humans. This can be impactful in more effectively treating human disease by predicting when and where exactly disease is most virulent and has the highest rate of transmission.
What new skills have you gained through your research?
This summer I have learned about bacterial culture, plasmids, and genetic recombineering. Part of this project includes the insertion of antibiotic resistance genes into the bacterial genome in order to knock out the J gene, a gene that encodes for receptor that recognizes a certain type of bacteriophage, requiring a specific set of protocols. I have also been using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) in order to verify that some of these genes have been inserted or deleted from the bacterial genome.