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Nova Southeastern University's Parasitology Club Celebrates Parasite Month!

By Dr. Christopher Blanar (Nova Southeastern University)

March was a busy month for Nova Southeastern University’s first (and only) official Parasitology Club. To begin with, the Club was born! It was formed by a group of mostly pre-medical undergraduate Biology students who are alums of my Intro to Parasitology course, but it also includes marine bio, environmental, neuroscience, and microbiological types as well: a fun, multidisciplinary crowd! Inspired by ASP’s call to celebrate #ParasiteDay2019, Club members declared March to be Parasitology Month at NSU, and organized three major events running from March 15-29.

For our first event, things got cooking (literally) with our Parasite Pit Stop. We set up some tables in the courtyard outside our student lounge during lunch hour (!) and invited the NSU community to come learn more about some of the major foodborne parasites (and how to avoid them). More than 80 students and faculty visited displays of cooked and undercooked pork, beef, and fish. We had microscopes with slides of the usual suspects: Taenia solium and saginata, Trichinella, anisakid nematodes, Diplyllobothrium… we even had Fasciola hepatica for the vegetarians! Parasitology Club members engaged with passerby and answered questions about life cycles, pathology, and treatment. It was great fun, but I’m not sure we deterred anyone from eating undercooked meat: in fact, we had to discourage some of our visitors from eating the displays!

We then hosted a parasite-themed movie panel called REEL Science Behind Movie Monsters. I was joined by NSU colleague and expert in the supernatural, Dr. James Doan, who outdoes me in the study of fascinating and creepy things (you can check out some of his work here). We showed clips of Nosferatu (both the classic 1922 and 1979 remake), 28 Days Later, Shivers, Body Snatchers, and of course Alien… and talked about the parasites, bacteria, and viruses that likely inspired their monsters. We touched on syphilis, rabies, Toxoplasma, Cordyceps, nematomorphs, and parasitoid wasps. The event was particularly memorable for those dozen or so students who had hitherto managed to not witness the classic scene where the Alien bursts out of John Hurt’s chest.

Our last event was a showcase of some of the parasitological research we do at NSU. Undergraduate Emily Hoeflich demonstrated some of the dissection and sample collection techniques she is using to study parasite / microbiome interactions in aquatic birds. Miami Dade College student Daniela Cabrera showed off nematodes (Ozolaimus sp.) from the digestive tract of igauanas- nematodes that are surprisingly “hairy” with ectosymbionts! She’s working to identify the hairs (we think they are segmented filamentous bacteria). Grad student Dayna Hunn displayed samples of fish and inverts (and their parasites) from Sargassum clumps she sampled from the Florida Current, and talked about the trophic webs that link them.

As the Winter term ends, Parasitology Club has already started planning #ParasiteDay2020. Ideas being kicked around include outreach events in area schools and joining the awesome program Kelly Weinersmith coordinated in 2019 that matches up parasitologists with classrooms through video conferencing. I’m looking forward to another fun year with this fun and engaged group of students.

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