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SAVE the parasites

ctfaulkn at utkvx.utk.edu ctfaulkn at utkvx.utk.edu
Fri Apr 15 00:39:40 EST 1994

In Article <Co97LF.14L at zoo.toronto.edu>
mes at zoo.toronto.edu (Mark Siddall) writes:
I would suggest that the reason most parasitologists get into the field
>is not because of the immunology they are doing now, or the notion that
>they can save lives of people or livestock, but, because (stuff deleted)
>they thought parasites were cool! 

I also got into parasitology because I think parasites are neat creatures and
I love them all.  They are great systems for studying evolution, adaptive
radiation, speciation, addressing philosophical questions regarding
systematics and the process of classification.  I don't believe these aspects
of study have been marginalized, nor do I believe that the folks who do this 
research have a tougher time getting funding or employment than any other
academic scientist.  Its a myth that all funding goes to parasitologists
actively pursuing problems of medical/veterinary importance. In truth, it seems
that funding for academic research is largely overdispersed (few individuals
account for most of the available grant money) among individuals doing NSF type
research and those doing NIH/USDA research.  I have been 
working in applied parasitology for several years, and we have not seen any
of the tremendous wealth of funding devoted to medical/veterinary problems.
And we have been working with Toxoplasma (an area which has gotten much
attention). In fact we manage to support our work by running fecal and blood 
samples for diagnostic parasitology.  It is true, that we try to show how our 
work can be applied to the problems of society, wildlife management etc. but I

believe it is incumbent on all scientists to demonstrate the relevance of their
work to the constiuents (taxpayers, donors of foundations etc..) who support
it.  If we as a discipline fail to inform and excite our public supoorters
with why parasites are important, the new research questions they provoke, why
they should care if they become extinct, we will find that they have other
comparitively more interesting, exciting things to spend their money on.

In reference to the original post for this topic... If we look at our
collective track record on intervention efforts to drive parasites to
extinction, I beiveve we will see that these efforts have largely failed. I
point to our efforts to erradicate Malaria as the classic example. It is alive
and well and thriving because of its incredible adaptive plasticitiy. We can
find other examples as well. Biologically oriented parasitologists can tap into
these ongoing experiments and study the mechansisms parasites use to 
evade host immune response,and  evade our chemical control programs by
genetic alteration, host switching, and other changes in life history.  If you
follow this thread I think we will come to the conclusison that Med/Vet
Parasitology and Bio/Evolu Parasitology are not mutually exclusive, but
compliment and synergystically feed on each other to raise our research to more
sophisticated problems and levels of understanding.  As far as parasite
extiniction goes, I believe that habitat alteration and host extinction is afar
greater threat than increased drug efficacy, and public health and hygiene

CT Faulkner, Univ of TN
ctfaulkn at utkvx.utk.edu

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