InvestigatorVasyl Tkach, Ph.D.

Location:  Department of Biology, University of North Dakota

Project #1 Title:  Molecular study of avian malaria in waterfowl

Description:  Most people know that malaria is one of the most serious infectious diseases of humans transmitted by mosquitoes and distributed mostly in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.  However, very few people know that other animals, such as birds, reptiles and wild mammals, also may have malaria.  Moreover, while humans have only 4 species of malaria parasites, birds have hundreds worldwide.  They may be transmitted by mosquitoes and black flies common in our region.  Currently, more is known about avian malaria in tropical foreign countries than right here where we live.  This is especially true for waterfowl (ducks, geese and their relatives) and other aquatic birds which are very important in our region from both ecological and economical (as game birds) viewpoint.  There were no previous studies of bird malaria in these birds in either North Dakota or Minnesota.  We have samples previously collected during fall hunting season from a variety of birds.  Student participating in this research will take part in every step of the study from extracting DNA, running real time and standard polymerase chain reactions (PCR), analysis of the results, preparation of sequencing reactions and sequence analysis.  While in the laboratory, student will have an opportunity to learn a variety of techniques and methods, from all steps of molecular analysis to light and scanning electron microscopy, digital imaging and measurements, etc.  If interested, student will also be able to participate in the local fieldwork.  This will be done together with faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.  The results of the study will be prepared for presentation at conferences and publication in a peer reviewed journal depending on the outcomes.

Project #2 Title:  Revealing the agents of "swimmer's itch" in North Dakota and Minnesota

Description:  In summer time, people heading for recreation to lakes in our region (and elsewhere in the USA as well as other countries) often experience itching in their skin (mostly legs) associated with red dots and bumps not resulting from mosquito bites.  This itching only appears after contact in water.  The condition is commonly known as "swimmer's itch" while its scientific name is "cercarial dermatitis".  Few people know that it is caused by microscopical larvae of parasitic flukes found as adults in blood vessels of aquatic birds.  The larval stages live in snails and are released into water where they try to penetrate skin of ducks or humans, whichever comes first.  Fortunately, the parasites cannot develop in humans beyond causing temporary itch.  Currently, very little is known about these parasites in our region despite high diversity and numbers of birds and wide-spread swimmer's itch.  Student will participate in a variety of activities and learn a variety of techniques including collecting snails in the field, screening them for fluke larvae, light microscopy and digital imaging, scanning electron microscopy, DNA extraction, polymerase chain reactions, gel electrophoresis, sequencing reactions and analysis of the results.  The study will be conducted together with faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.