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Report on the 93RD Annual Meeting of the American Society of Parasitologists


By Kelly Weinersmith

ASP held its 93rd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Parasitologists at The Marriott Cancun Resort in Mexico on June 21-24. The views from the hotel were breathtaking, the food was delicious, and the ambiance outside was matched by amazing talks and wonderful company inside. Many thanks to ASP’s Local Organizing Committee (led by Drs. Victor Manuel Vidal Martinez and Mérida Leopoldina Aguirre-Macedo) and to our Scientific Program Officers (Drs. Herman Eure and Kelli Sapp)! 

ASP President Susan Perkins with Local Organizing Committee members Victor Manuel Vidal Martinez and Mérida Leopoldina Aguirre-Macedo.

President Susan Perkins presided over this conference. Her President’s Symposium was themed The “Holobiome: Interactions Between Parasites and the Microbiome”. The invited speakers discussed topics ranging from how the microbiome one harbors early in life influences the adult immune system (Dr. Sarah Knutie), why we need to understand inter-kingdom interactions to understand disease (Dr. Derek McKay), and the role of microbes in host and parasite ecology and evolution (Dr. Nolween Dheilly).

That afternoon Dr. William Campbell gave the aptly named William B. Campbell Lecture, entitled “Ivermectin: From Mouse to a House”. Dr. Campbell’s work on Ivermectin won him the Nobel Prize in 2015. A collaboration with Merck and The Carter Center resulted in the dissemination of Ivermectin to treat Onchocerciasis (River Blindness), and the reduction or eliminated of this disease in several countries! Dr. Campbell predicts the elimination of Onchocerciasis from Africa between 2020-2025. He also regaled us with stories of meeting political leaders, including President Barack Obama (who gifted him the Giant Microbes heart worm!) and the King and Queen of Sweden.

Matt Bolek chatting with students during The VORTEX.

The afternoon belonged to ASP’s amazing students. Caroline Keroack (ASP Student Representative) presided over the ASP Students’ Symposium, whose theme this year was “Field work fails (and triumphs!): How to research effectively in the Field”. Dr. Janet Koprivnikar reminded us that “The worst data is that which you failed to collect & then need later on”. Dr. Matt Bolek told us about the non-traditional methods (including purchasing butterflies through eBay and doing microdissections late at night at his kitchen table) he used to elucidate the life cycle of a protozoan pathogen of butterflies. Dr. Sara Brant warned us that when doing international fieldwork, you need to know who you are and what you’re capable of (e.g., can you deal with guns and political unrest in a foreign country?). Dr. Janine Caira gave advice that we should heed for all aspects of our life, including 1) Keep your sense of humor, 2) Be persistent, 3) Patience is a virtue, and 4) Identify your mistakes you can correct them early. Additionally, collect where you have permits because it’s great to not go to jail. The Student Symposium was followed by the Steve Upton Social for ASP Students and THE VORTEX: Science Speed Meet for Early Career Scientists.

Tim Ruhnke emcees the Student Auction with help of the meeting mascot, a giant hookworm.

The 28th Annual ASP Student Auction was presided over by Drs. Tim Ruhnke and John Hawdon, and $7,625 was raised for student travel grants! Highly sought-after items included original artwork by Dr. John Janovy, Dr. William Campbell, and Bari Ramoy. Dr. Campbell’s painting “Worms in Paradise” brought in a whopping $1,125! Additional highlights included a visit from the conference’s mascot: a giant hookworm! Many of us enjoyed getting our photos taken with the hookworm throughout the conference.

The next day Dr. James B. (“Sparky”) Lok gave the Bueding & von Brand Lecture, entitled “Functional genomic study in Strongyloides and related parasitic nematodes by transgenesis and CRISPR/CAS9 mutagenesis.”  Dr. Lok discussed his work to develop transgenesis in Strongyloides and his investigations of the molecular biology of nematode infection and development, including successfully using CRISPR/Cas9 to edit the genome of a parasitic nematode for the first time.

Susan Perkins delivering the President's Address.

ASP’s President’s Address was given by Dr. Susan Perkins, and was entitled “Parasitology: Diversity and Inclusion for the Future.” She noted that biologists understand the importance of biodiversity, and this message should permeate our lives, as diversity is important in our institutions and our lives well. Studies show that diverse groups solve problems better and faster than less diverse groups. Her message was clear - “Diversity isn’t just a buzzword. It’s smart.” Dr. Perkins then discussed the extent to which woman have been able to take on leadership positions in ASP, and how often we reward their accomplishments. I was surprised to learn that only six of ASP’s ninety-four Presidents have been women! While the percent of awards given to women ASP members is abysmally low historically, our track record for recognizing work done by the women in our society is clearly improving since 2010. While we have reason to feel good about improvements we’ve made, we still have work to do.  

Attendees of the Insect-Pathogen Interaction Symposium

Drs. Julián Hillyer and Jonas G. King presided over the Insect-Pathogen Interaction Symposium (“Immunological and physiological interactions between insects and pathogens”). Dr. Hillyer organized this symposium by gathering together talks on a common theme from the list of submitted abstracts. The symposium was a great success, and we encourage other members to consider organizing a symposium from papers on a common theme for our 2019 meeting.

AWARDS Drs. Pieter Johnson won the H.B. Ward Medal, Janine Caira won the Clark P. Read Mentor Award, Dennis Minchella won the Distinguished Service Award, and Kyle Gustafson won the Ashton Cuckler New Investigator Award. Congratulations to the winners!

ASP's Student Award Winners!

We also celebrated the achievements of our student members who won awards! Award winners included Graham Goodman (University of Utah - graduate student) and Ethan Woodyard (Mississippi State University - undergraduate student) who were awarded Student Research Grants. The winners of this year's Student Paper Competition were Cristina Llopis-Belenguer (Universitat de Valéncia) and Jasmine Childress (University of California, Santa Barbara) for the Outstanding Student Paper awards, and Graham Goodman (University of Utah) and Demi Gagnon (University of Manitoba) for the Meritorious Student Paper awards. This year we also presented awards for Best Student Posters. The winners were Jessica Rotolo (University of Guelph), Bianca Valdes Fernandez (University of Puerto Rico), Matthew Moser (University of California, Santa Cruz), Sisina Macchiarelli (SUNY Oneonta), and Ylce Yoselin Ucan Maas (Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional). Marc Dresden Student Travel Grants were also awarded to Tyler Achatz, Christina Anaya, Mariana Avila, Alexis Brown, Laura Chappell, Jasmine Childress, Danielle de Carle, Margaret Doolin, Emily Durkin, Olwyn Friesen, Demi Gagnon, Kaitlin Gallagher, Graham Goodman, Alexandra Grote, Rita Grunberg, Meghan Guzman, Ciara Hayes, Jacquelin Hernandez Villalobos, Ryan Koch, MartinaLaidemitt, Cristina Llopis-Belenguere, Scott Malotka, Keira Mckee, Marissa Moran, Sara Cowan, Michael Nakama, Marcos Ramos-Benitez, Jessica Rotolo, Caleb Ruiz Jimenez, Ana Santacruz, Charles Schaub, Ben Schultz, Ryan Shannon, Brenda Solorzano-Garcia, Asma Sultana, Brittany White, and Monique Winterhoff.

Many congratulations to ASP’s students for your awards, and for the wonderful talks you gave and posters you presented! You’re the future of our society, and we’re so proud of all you’ve accomplished in the past year. 

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