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Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Graduate student Erin Gorsich wins nationally competitive fellowship

May 24th, 2010

Erin Gorsich

Erin Gorsich, a PhD student in the Jolles lab (Biomedical Sciences) was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support her work on interactions between bacterial pathogens in African buffalo.

Erin joined the Jolles lab in fall 2008, having completed a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology at Denison University, Ohio.  Her doctoral dissertation research in Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa, will investigate how Brucella abortus infection (brucellosis) may alter the dynamics and pathogenic effects of Mycobacterium bovis, causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (BTB). Brucellosis is endemic to Kruger Park; whereas bovine TB is an emerging infection currently spreading from south to north in the park, infecting many wildlife species, with buffalo as the main reservoir hosts. An open question for understanding the rate and patterns of spread of invasive pathogens such as M. bovis, is the role played by endemic pathogens that animals are exposed to prior to the arrival of these new invaders. Infection by endemic pathogens may increase transmission of an invasive disease by depleting host defenses, or may decrease transmission through cross-protective immunity or via increased mortality of co-infected hosts. The background of endemic infections might thus modify invasion success of emerging infectious diseases, as well as their impact on host populations.
A detailed understanding of the BTB invasion in Kruger Park is particularly urgent due to the creation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, linking Kruger (South Africa), Gonarezhou (Zimbabwe) and Limpopo (Mozambique) National Parks and opening the previously closed Kruger ecosystem to animal migrations across a much larger area. Both M. bovis and B. abortus are capable of infecting multiple host species, including cattle and humans. Movement of these pathogens in buffalo to currently unaffected areas will potentially put rural livelihoods, as well as more fragile wildlife species at risk. This concern has motivated research on BTB in African buffalo, yet the patterns of brucellosis throughout KNP, and how it moderates BTB infection remain unknown. By examining brucellosis and BTB dynamics in their main wildlife host, Erin hopes to contribute to understanding and potentially mitigating the risks that these diseases poses to wildlife, livestock, and people.
Erin’s NSF Graduate Research Fellowship will go a long way in helping her achieve these goals. The fellowship, worth over $130,000, will provide Erin with stipend and tuition for three years, as well as some research and travel funds. NSF fellowships are highly competitive – NSF awarded approximately 1,600 Graduate Research Fellowships this year and received over 10,000 applications. Way to go, Erin!

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