Erin L. Keller
I am currently in my second year as a master’s student at the University of Vermont (UVM). I began pursuing a career in disease ecology/parasitology early on in my undergraduate career at UVM after taking a course with my current PI, Dr. Joseph J. Schall. As an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to contribute to existing projects including a population genetics study on sandlfies (Lutzomyia vexator), vectors of human disease and design a study on the life history and life cycle of an apicomplexan parasite, Monocystis sp.
After graduating from undergraduate, I stayed with on as a master’s student with my PI and continued research on the life cycle of Monocystis sp. Populations of earthworms with this parasite have parasite prevalence that commonly reaches 100% which is unlikely given the parasite’s putative horizontal transmission; therefore, I am studying the variable modes of transmission within and between sites and determining if Monocystis‘ transmission follows different aspects of transmission theory. Determining the different modes of transmission of this ubiquitous parasite allowed me to become proficient in a variety of techniques including classical microscopy, conventional and quantitative/real-time PCR, and laser dissections.
In addition to my research on parasites, I also am working on a population genetics study of two species of earthworms in Vermont, the well-known night crawler (Lumbricus terrestris) and the invasive Asian earthworm colloquially known as the “crazy snake worm” (Amynthas agrestis). Understanding the genetic diversity and population structure of these earthworms provides insight into their reproductive mode(s), dispersal rate, and possibly, their susceptibility to parasitic infection.