03 July 2017

American Society of Parasitologists, Day 5

For the last day at the Parasitologists conference, I mostly sat in on taxonomy talks. Now, I love taxonomists and admire the work that they do to no end, but I think it’s fair to say that their talks do not always have the most compelling narratives. So most of my notes for talks I saw were very short.

Sara Brandt: Schistosome taxonomy. Thinks snail ecology plays the biggest role in determining the schistosome relationships.

Santos Portugal (@jsportugal3): Tick phylogeny.

Tim Ruhnke: Cestode tapeworm phylogeny.

Veronica Mantovani Bueno: More cestode tapeworm phylogeny. The revision the taxonomy of host skates and rays led to big changes in interpretation of the taxonomy and ecology of their cestode parasites. There seems to be very relaxed associations between host and parasite. Some of the cestodes she studies have very similar DNA sequences, but dramatically different morphology.

Anna Phillips: new medicinal leech. #CollectionsAreEssential

Carlos Ruiz: I came in late and missed the start of this talk, but it involved possible new copepod species.

Jackson Roberts: Turtle blood flukes, of which he described one new species. A bunch of stuff is coming about flukes in South American turtles.

Bret Warren: Looking at flukes in sturgeon. I learned that Lake Winnebago has a sturgeon fishery, which is spearfishing in winter, through holes in ice. That alone was worth the price of admission. Here’s a video of this great tradition:

Carlos Ruiz again (this was sprung on him about 10 minutes before the talk): Myxozoans are parasitic jellyfish. In this case, they cause “whirling disease” in fish. Very tough to get rid of. Started with reports from anglers noticing strange fish. State natural resources came on board to get samples.

After the contributed talks, the moment I had been waiting for: poster session! I had a poster that I was very happy with. I’ll show it on the Better Posters blog after the paper is published. (I’m writing it now!)

I was also super pleased to be reunited with my SICB symposium partner in crime, Kelly Weinersmith, who had new progeny with her.

Because the diversity of parasite research is so wide, it can be hard to detect commonalities across a conference (which I saw less than half of, at best). But there were a recurring theme from this meeting.

Parasitology, like much of biology, has been transformed by molecular biology. The techniques are making it possible to answer questions that would have been very difficult to answer without them. For instance, “Is this species of parasite in this intermediate host the same species in this definitive host?”

But parasitologists emphatically do not want molecular biology to take over their field.

Several speakers referenced the #CollectionsAreEssential hashtag on Twitter, which was prompted by the possible loss of NSF funding supporting museum collections. Museum collections are constantly under threat, and constantly proving useful to current science.

Several people noted that DNA sequence data needs to be connected to “ground truths”: you have to be able to see the organism whose DNA you are sequencing.

The recurring theme of this meeting was that for parasitology to remain a viable field, never mind a vibrant one, organismal biology has to remain strong. This is going to be a challenge, because many people find the “Sequence it all and let algorithms sort it out” approach enticing and alluring.

One last note that is tangential to the conference, but relevant to a recent post on publishing costsThe Journal of Parasitology has very competitive article processing charges, particularly for open access. Even nonmembers can publish open access for $1,000, about the same as PeerJ, which is one of the most cost effective open access megajournals.

Related posts

American Society of Parasitologists, Day 1 and 2
American Society of Parasitologists, Day 3
American Society of Parasitologists, Day 4

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