- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Who knew that you, along with billions of other people, could be infected with undetected microscopic parasitic nematodes, or round worms? And that they spit venom?
Parasitologist Adler Dillman of UC Riverside knows. In fact, he recently received a $1.8 million Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study these parasitic nematodes, which infect a quarter of a billion of the world's population and can cause blindness, cognitive issues and sometimes death.
Want to learn more about this research? The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has booked him as a guest speaker as part of its fall weekly seminars, coordinated by nematologist and assistant professor Shahid Siddique.
Dillman will deliver his in-person seminar, "Nematode Venom Contains Potent Modulators of Insect Immunity," at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 27 in 122 Briggs Hall Drive, off Kleiber Hall Drive. It also will be broadcast live on Zoom at https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/
"Parasitic nematodes are master manipulators of host immunity," Dillman says in his abstract. "Little is known about the identity and function of the cocktail of effectors they release during active infection. We have developed an effector discovery model using entomopathogenic nematodes and fruit flies, which we are using to identify and characterize potent modulators of insect immunity."
Dillman, who joined the UC Riverside faculty in February 2015 and is now an associate professor, focuses his research on identifying the specific proteins in a nematode's spit or venom that can trick the immune system to ignore its presence. His model organism is the fruit fly. He hopes that his research could lead to treatments for autoimmune diseases in humans, such as celiac, Crohn's or inflammatory bowel diseases.
UC Riverside featured him, his NIH grant and his research in a press release "Parasitic Worm Venom Evades Human Immune System," posted July 20, 2020 on EurekAlert. "By some estimates, nearly a quarter of the world's population is infected with various types of microscopic worms, or nematodes, with effects ranging from cognitive impairment and blindness to debilitation, elephantiasis, and death," writer Jules Berstein of UC Riverside related. "Examples include hookworm, which thrives in the American South, causing developmental delays and anemia; and pinworms, which commonly infect children and child care workers with an itchy perianal-area rash."
"You can have a person riddled with infection who never realized there's a 2-centimeter-long worm in their eye and thousands of parasites in their blood," Dlllman told her. "The immune system never signaled something was wrong. How is that possible? We know very little about how that works."
Devastating Parasites. Nematodes, he says, are "devastating parasites of humans, capable of modulating our biology in numerous ways, including suppressing our immune systems. The goal of my lab is to understand this modulation and to characterize the chemical pathways that allow it to happen. There's compelling data that parasites could even be used to treat autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's or inflammatory bowel disease. Parasitic worms are just the coolest things you could study because there are so many strange interactions, both positive and negative, that occur between the worms and their hosts."
Aylin Woodward of Business Insider spotlighted Dillman's work in a Sept. 13, 2020 news story headlined "A Scientist Won $1.8 Million to Study the Venom Parasitic Worms Use to Live Undetected in Our Bodies. He Thinks It Could Help Treat Celiac Disease. The Dillman lab is "looking at 500 or so different types of proteins released by nematodes that infect fruit flies," she wrote, quoting Dillman: "Flies are cheaper and easier to work with, and the parasites that affect insects release the same proteins as those that infect mammals."
"An analysis of research on this subject, published in 2017, described how the presence of nematodes and other parasites can lower inflammation in IBD and reduce the severity of multiple sclerosis, type 1 , asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis in animals," Woodward pointed out. "A 2010 study, in fact, described a patient with IBD who deliberately infected himself with a parasitic worm called a whipworm. The man's immune system started producing a type of protein crucial to healing his digestive tract, and the disease went into remission."
Dillman received his doctorate in 2012 from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), a private research university in Pasadena, and then served as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford from 2013 to 2014. He holds a bachelor's degree (2006) from Brigham Young University.
Shahid Siddique may be reached at email@example.com./span>
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis nematologist/parasitologist Lauren Camp gets asked that a lot.
In one word: "Worms."
Her display table last Sunday, Jan. 22 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's "Parasite Palooza" open house drew dozens of fascinated visitors of all ages.
“Nematodes are an amazing phylum of organisms--they exist in almost every known environment on the planet, and different species eat everything from bacteria and fungi to plant and animal tissue," said Camp, who received her doctorate from UC Davis last December, studying with nematologist Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"I find parasites particularly fascinating, because they are dependent on another organism (or organisms) for part or all of their life cycle."
Camp staffed the table from 1 to 4 p.m., enthusiastically answering all kinds of questions and talking about her displays, which included nematodes from the stomach of a Minke whale (specimen from the California Academy of Sciences), the heart of a dog (pointer) infected with heartworm, and a tomato plant with nematode-damaged roots.
"I got a lot of That's gross! and That's cool!" Camp recalled. "People were amazed by the whale stomach worms. Many were saddened by the dog heart infected with heartworm, but understood the importance of giving their dogs medication for heartworm."
Regarding heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) in dogs, Camp pointed out that the parasite is transmitted to dogs through mosquito bites, and more than 70 mosquito species can transmit it. Dirofilaria immitis is distributed across the United States, although its prevalence is higher in some U.S. regions, she said. A good resource? Check out https://www.capcvet.org/capc-recommendations/canine-heartworm/, a website that also includes maps of prevalence in the U.S. from 2011 and 2012.
The tomato plant, infected with Meloidogyne incognita, came from postdoctoral fellow Rasa Cepulyte-Rakauskiene of the Valerie Williamson lab, UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology. "Meloidogyne species
Camp, who hails from rural northern Indiana, first became interested in parasites as an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago, where she received her bachelor's degree in biology in 2005. She went on to earn her master's degree in biology from Wake Forest University in 2007. "My specific interest in nematode parasites developed when I read some of Dr. Nadler's work on the evolutionary relationships of nematodes for an invertebrate biology class. Her career plans: a researcher in infectious diseases or genetics/genomics or as a science communicator.
Meanwhile, if you missed Camp's presentation at the Bohart Museum open house, not to worry. She's booked one more presentation this month and nematologists will table an event at the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.
Science Night Live Program: Camp will speak on "Nematode Need-to-Know: Roundworms Are All Around You” at the Science Night Live Program at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 1 at the World of Wonders (WOW) Science Museum, 2 North Sacramento St., Lodi. The two-hour event is billed as a “conversation with the parasitologist.” She will display nematodes ranging in size from less than one millimeter to eight meters long, or 30 feet.
UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. Nematologists Corwin Irwin and Chris Pagan, both graduate students, will discuss and show nematodes from noon to 4 p.m. in the Sciences Lab Building, UC Davis campus. This will be a part of 12 collections on display throughout the campus. The event, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (some collections are open from 9 to noon, and some from 1 to 4 p.m.) will "showcase natural history, biodiversity and the cultural-ecological interface," according to Biodiversity Museum Day coordinator Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (See Bug Squad blog)
Camp also appeared Sunday, Jan. 22 on Good Day Sacramento's "Parasite Palooza" show with entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the moth and butterfly specimens at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. They shared and showed specimens and live insects. Camp mentioned a 30-foot-long whale nematode. (See http://gooddaysacramento.cbslocal.com/video/category/spoken-word-good-day/3610653-parasite-palooza/) She also spoke Feb. 1 to Capital Public Radio. See http://www.capradio.org/88726.
"It's fun to talk about nematodes with the public," she said.