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Give Me a Parasite — Kayla Buck

A bunch of hippies and rednecks. This was my impression of Warnell as I walked through building 4 to my freshman odyssey class. As an animal science major pretending to be pre-vet I had no intention of finding myself in this school for more than simply a wildlife parasite class. I was interested in parasites of course, but I was looking at a future of clean labs and cute shoes, not field pants and animal parts. Of course, I was sucked into Warnell, and have been thankful ever since.

Zoonotic diseases are of incredible interest to me and parasitology in particular grasps my attention. Diseases often get overlooked by wildlife students and passed onto the pre-vet students. But while pre-vets are interested in how to cure a disease, I find it particularly interesting to see what a disease does. How something so small can destroy a counterpart so large is mind-blowing.

I have done some undergraduate research at SCWDS (Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study) and have had first hand experience on what it takes to collect data on these diseases and parasites. My first introduction to this field was working on Dr. Yabsley’s Haemogregarina project in turtles. Through this I experienced the terrors that came with facing a giant snapping turtle and trying to stick a needle in his tail. Or trying to get blood from a tiny painted turtle while he is giving the most viscous look he can muster. I also learned what it meant to put away a prissy attitude and just get in the mud, even if it meant getting a leach or two… or 20.

Fieldwork is what we live for as wildlife biology students, however we must face the reality that we also will be inside at times. After turtle blood collection was complete for the summer, I continued to work on the project through fall, spring and winter by staining and looking at slides. This consisted of literally counting blood cells, and looking for a purple jelly-bean shape in them. That is the haemogregarina. What seemed like it would be an exhilarating job soon became tedious as cell counts reached into the tens of thousands. For lack of better words, I was itching for a new project after 7-8 months of this work.

When the reality of needing an internship/practicum hit me, I immediately was in Dr. Yablsey’s office looking for a project, preferably a project that could become a senior thesis. Enter Baylisascaris project. Thus began a summer of studying rodent brains. Not only did this project give me a summer activity, but also I could use it for my senior thesis.  While working on this project, I felt like Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin. Though I did not discover a new disease (or cure) for me the first positive mouse we found for Baylisascaris seemed like this grand new discovery. Looking under a microscope and seeing this tiny worm swimming around was exhilarating! Though we expected not to even find it, we were the first to discover Baylisascaris in rodents in Georgia, as well as the first to find Baylisascaris at all in Jackson County.

I consider myself an oddity as the wildlifer that is neither interested in wildlife management nor veterinary techniques.  I am a special kind that is fascinated by the micro world. A world so viscous and intriguing because it is not even remotely understood yet. I suppose it’s strange, but in the end I guess everyone here at Warnell is a little strange. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be so passionate.

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