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USU Speaker To Cover Novel Parasite Research

Emily Wood

This week’s speaker at the USU Ecology Center is using unique ways to study parasite communities and reduce parasite infections.

“If I could time travel back to 1888 and open up a fish the way that I do every day in my lab, the parasite community that I'd find inside that fish would be wildly different from the one that I'm familiar with today,” said Chelsea Wood, a professor at the University of Washington, and the speaker at USU’s Ecology Center this week.

Her lab studies aquatic parasites, focusing on parasite transmission and changes in parasite communities over time.

Wood said little is known about past aquatic parasite communities. To learn more, she and her students have taken the innovative route of dissecting fish preserved at museums to study the parasites within them. She also studies the transmission of parasites from snails to humans, with the hope of reducing infections.

“Schistosoma causes the disease, schistosomiasis, this terrible flatworm infection that affects 206 million people," Wood said. "And it's the second most prevalent parasitic disease of people after malaria. We're really interested in using what we learned about the ecology of parasites to try and get rid of it."

Wood said her next project is to study how climate change has affected fish parasites across the Gulf of Alaska, which is warming quickly in some areas.

“We're gonna collect fish from all across the Gulf of Alaska and then see whether fish that are in a place that's warming really rapidly have a different pattern of change in their parasite communities than fish that are in a place that's warming really slowly. That sets us up to be able to really pull apart how climate changes parasite transmission,” Wood said.

Wood will be speaking virtually about her research this Wednesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Ecology Center. For more information about how to watch her presentations, visit ecology.usu.edu/seminar-series/recorded-seminars/.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.