RESEARCH EXPERIENCES FOR UNDERGRADUATES FROM RURAL AND TRIBAL COLLEGES
Investigator: Vasyl Tkach, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Location: Department of Biology, Starcher Hall, University of North Dakota
Project #1 Title: Molecular study of avian malaria in waterfowl
Description: 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, other animals, such as birds, reptiles and wild mammals, also may have malaria. Moreover, while humans have only four 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 here. This is especially true for waterfowl (ducks, geese and their relatives) and other aquatic birds in North America in general and our region. There were no previous studies of bird malaria in these birds in either North Dakota or Minnesota. We will also have samples previously collected during fall hunting season from a variety of birds. This will be done together with faculty, graduate and other 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.