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Happenings of the Helminthological Society of Washington (HelmSoc)

By Kelly Weinersmith

Lots has happened at HelmSoc since the last ASP Newsletter!

On Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 we met at the Pirates Cove Restaurant in Galesville, MD to honor Dr. Florian Reyda with HelmSoc’s Anniversary Award. This is the highest honor our society bestows. Here is the Anniversary Award Committee’s justification for nominating Florian for this award:

“The Anniversary Award Committee nominates Dr. Florian Reyda for the 2023 Helminthological Society of Washington Anniversary award. Dr. Florian Reyda is a broadly trained, highly collaborative parasitologist with expertise spanning a remarkably wide range of parasite taxa and systems. He is especially talented at engaging students in the study of parasites early in their education, often fostering a fascination for parasites that has resulted in their pursuing a career in Parasitology. In doing so he has helped advance the discipline for us all. He has provided dedicated service to the Helminthological Society of Washington, and the Society’s journal, Comparative Parasitology, in particular, for the past 10 years. From 2014 to 2017 he served as graphics editor and from 2017 to present he has served as a manuscript editor. He has also been a regular contributor to Comparative Parasitology, having published research he and his collaborators and students have conducted on different orders of acanthocephalans and cestodes, particularly of fish.”

Congratulations to Florian, and many, many thanks for all of your service!

We also recently (April 18-20) held our Spring Meeting at the Virginia Military Institute in collaboration with the Southeastern Society of Parasitologists. The meeting started out with a keynote by Holly Gaff (Old Dominion University) entitled, “The Challenging and Complex Ecology of Ticks in Southeastern Virginia”. The second day featured oral presentations, a poster session, and ended with dinner and square dancing! Drink tickets and a cash bar gave some of us the courage to hit the dance floor, though often at the expense of our coordination. Our fearless organizer, Ashleigh Smythe, needed no such liquid courage and pulled off even the most complicated square dances with the agility and grace of a pro. I, personally, looked ridiculous - and also had an incredible time doing so.

On the last day we rested our dancing feet, and enjoyed a morning of excellent talks. The meeting ended with Business Meetings for each society. At HelmSoc’s Business Meeting we presented our student awards for best oral presentations and posters. The winners (drumroll please) are…..

The Judith Humphrey Shaw Undergraduate Awards

Amani Khan (George Mason University) won our best poster award for an undergrad with her poster on “Parasite prevalence and intensity in crab and shrimp hosts in two rivers of the Chesapeake Bay”.

Our best undergraduate talk award went to Katherine Orndorff (Virginia Military Institute) for her talk “The beetle Tenebrio molitor shows attraction to some, but not all, acids found in the feces of rats infected with the tapeworm Hymenolepis diminuta”.

Stirewalt-Lincicome Student Awards

We gave our best graduate poster award to Morgan Fleming (SUNY Oneonta), for her poster “A deeper look at hooks: Inter-relationships among neoechinorhynchid acanthocephalans.”

Our first runner-up for best oral presentation was Mariah Pritts (Frostburg), for her talk “Use of lectins and fluorescence microscopy to reveal carbohydrate arrangements on Brugia malayi anatomy.”

And our second runner-up was Hannah Whitcomb (SUNY Oneonta) for “Past vs. present: a survey of the fish parasites of the tributaries of Oneida Lake, New York.”

The award for the best overall oral presentation went to Andrea Langeland (George Washington University), for her incredible talk “Host specificity in hookworms: species-specific and sex-dependent immune mechanisms mediate host permissiveness”.

Congratulations to all of our presentation award winners!

Finally, we’re excited to announce the 2024 recipients of the HelmSoc Student Research Grants! This is our third year offering the Underrepresented Minority Student Research Grant. A generous donation from the Fried Estate following the passing of Dr. Bernard Fried allowed us to create the Bernard Fried Student Research Grant, and this is our second year offering this award. Below are bios and project summaries from the 2024 recipients!

HelmSoc Underrepresented Minority Student Research Grant Recipients

Nikole Castleberry (graduate student, University of Georgia)

Bio: I am a PhD student in Dr. Michael Yabsley’s parasitology lab at the Southeastern Cooperative Disease Study at the University of Georgia. I have a BS in Forestry and Natural Resources from the University of Georgia and an MS in Wildlife Management from West Virginia University. My professional journey includes time as a wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Nongame Conservation Section and, most recently, serving as the curator of vertebrate collections at the Georgia Museum of Natural History. I have always been fascinated by wildlife disease, especially from a One Health perspective, and I am so excited to finally be pursuing this dream.

Project Summary: My PhD work is focused on burrowing owl health, primarily the metastrongyloid parasite Angiostrogylus cantonensis. The rat lungworm is a newly discovered parasite in Florida burrowing owls, and this novel host represents the first documented case in a bird in the southeastern United States. Little is known about host dynamics as this is an invasive parasite from rats in the genus Rattus. We will use a combination of game cameras and metabarcoding on stomach contents, fecal samples, and owl pellets to describe the food habits of burrowing owls. This information will be used to help guide our sampling to identify paratenic and incidental hosts on the island.

Brent Lake (graduate student, Old Dominion University)

Bio: Brent Lake is a PhD student at Old Dominion University in Biomedical Sciences, concentrating in Microbiology/Immunology. After working in health care/EMS for many years, he returned to the University of Montana and received his bachelor’s in biology. After a brief hiatus during the pandemic, he returned to school and received his master’s degree in biology at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. While working on his master’s, Brent worked in a COVID-19 testing lab and became interested in vaccines and vaccine efficacy during the pandemic due to the first usage of mRNA-based vaccine technology. Upon getting accepted into the Biomedical Science PhD program, he met his mentor, Dr. Lisa Shollenberger. Dr. Shollenberger’s lab investigates ways to rescue failed vaccine strategies and develop molecular adjuvants against neglected tropical Schistosomiasis.

Project Summary: Brent’s work currently involves investigating immune system components infected with Schistosomiasis to acquire insight into metabolic changes that are characteristic of skewed inflammatory and anti-inflammatory immune responses of immune cells. This work is significant as it is crucial to understand the mechanisms and the extent to which Schistosomiasis alters the host immune cell metabolism as well as provide insight into possible molecular adjuvant discovery.

Jade Salis (graduate student, Kennesaw State University)

Bio: Jade is a graduate of Coastal Carolina University where she earned a bachelor's in marine science with a minor in biology. She is a first-year graduate student working towards her master's in integrative biology at Kennesaw State University. She hopes to continue to contribute to research after graduate school, with an interest in parasitology and shark biology.

Project Summary: Investigating parasite diversity in museum fish specimens collected from Raccoon and Pumpkinvine Creek, Georgia. Additionally, the gastrointestinal tract of the fish is being screened to quantify microplastic ingestion and assess potential relationships between parasites and plastics.

HelmSoc Bernard Fried Student Research Grant Recipients

Kiersten Jewell (undergraduate student, George Mason University)

Bio: I am currently a Junior at George Mason University pursuing my B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Conservation. I have always had a love for learning and a curiosity about the natural world, which led me to the Fowler Aquatic Biology Lab. After a couple of semesters assisting with ongoing projects in the lab, I developed my own questions to begin researching. When not in the lab or at school, I love spending time outside, hiking and camping.

Project Summary: My project looks at two unidentified parasitic cysts found in crabs and shrimp in Northern Virginia brackish river systems in an attempt to characterize the genetic structures of the populations and reveal what other hosts they infect. Additionally, we will determine how environmental factors such as temperature, seasonality, and salinity affect infection prevalence and intensity.

Mara Taylor (undergraduate student, Florida Southern College)

Bio: I am a third-year undergraduate at Florida Southern College, currently pursuing my bachelor's degree in Marine biology. Parasite ecology and Molluscan ecology are my two favorite study topics and I am excited to combine the two in my project! I am working in the lab of Dr. Kaitlin Gallagher. I am from Colorado Springs CO. After earning my bachelor's degree, I plan to pursue my masters degree and my PhD in biology.

Project Summary: Within Central Florida, there are many native and non-native snail species. Members of the genus Pomacea have been known to carry some larval trematodes. We intend to study the parasite communities of non-native Pomacea insularum (=maculata) and native Pomacea paludosa to determine if and how the invasive snail species is affecting the local parasite ecology.

Morgan Fleming (graduate student, SUNY Oneonta)

Bio: I graduated from SUNY Oneonta for my bachelor's in biology. I decided to stay at SUNY Oneonta to continue my studies in parasitology for my Master's. Some previous work I've done in the SUNY Oneonta Parasitology lab includes describing a new species of Neoechinorhynchus from redhorse and revisiting Chandler's 1935 survey of the parasites of Galveston Texas.

Project Summary: To collect and compare species of each of the 9 genera of neoechinorhynchid acanthocephalans represented in North America. With that, I will generate a phylogenetic based on DNA sequence data, using ITS and LSU markers, and use that as a framework for a morphological study.

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