ENT 402w- Biology of Animal Parasites

Course Overview: This course will be an intensive study of animal parasites, focusing on the Protozoan, Trematode, Cestode and Nematode parasites of animals. We will also cover different vectors for major diseases such as malaria, leishmania, sleeping sickness, elephantiasis, river blindness and other vector-borne diseases. The Biology of Animal Parasites will explore not only the complex life cycles of parasites, but also their transmission strategies, life history patterns, and different evolutionary/ecological theories concerning parasitic infections and adaptability. This course will not use a text book; rather, it will focus on life cycle handouts and a large selection of primary literature spanning some of the most interesting and debated theories in Parasitology.

As we learn about the different parasitic diseases and their transmission patterns, we will discuss how they fit differing views on the evolution of parasite virulence, parasite manipulation of host behavior, theories to successfully reduce parasite transmission, phenotypic plasticity, effects on host sexual selection characters, and intraspecific competition. This course will go beyond what is normally presented in a textbook, allowing students to learn about pathogens the way scientists are currently doing so- through primary research. Students will also have the chance to debate theories that have been published, providing opportunities for students to formulate hypotheses of their own.

 Course Topics:

Conceptual Themes: Taxonomic diversity of parasites, parasite life history strategies, host manipulation by parasites, epidemiology, parasite virulence, and sexual selection and parasitism.

Parasite Taxa: Protozoans, Trematodes, Cestodes and Nematodes.

Vectors: Ticks, mosquitoes, sandflies, blackflies, reduviid bugs and others as time permits.

Course objectives:

  • To discuss the importance of parasitism as a way of life and how parasites shape host communities
  • To identify over 60 different parasitic and vector species. This will include knowing their scientific name, life cycle, epidemiology, symptoms and control efforts.
  • To compare and contrast opposing views on the evolution of parasite virulence and life history traits, using primary literature to support/refute these competing hypotheses.
  • To identify when parasite manipulation of host behavior is adaptive, and when it is just a boring by product.
  • Utilize a rat tapeworm-beetle lab system to perform a mini-experiment of your choice (host manipulation, infection prevalence/ intensity, etc.)
  • To examine the evidence for/against the theory that parasites have resulted in the evolution of secondary, showy traits in males, thus leading to sexual selection of ‘healthy’ individuals.

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