Everyday there is a constant battle between healthy immune systems and parasites trying to harass our bodies. In the case of buffalos in South Africa they cannot simultaneously fight off a tuberculosis infection and a parasitic worm. Their immune system has to choose which of the adversaries it will fight; this decision has consequences for the individual and the health of the entire population of buffalos it encounters. This situation is not unlike those for humans. We are not fighting one immunological disease at a time, but many at once and they can interact to influence how we feel. Our guest this evening specializes in disease ecology, which focuses on how the spread of pathogens interacts with humans and non-human organisms.
Paul Snyder has worked on tiny ticks in New York to wild buffalo in South Africa, but he’s had a very colorful life before beginning his studies at OSU. Even though he loved everything science and technology growing up, there was limited exposure to those fields in high school and he never thought of being a scientist as a career path. To put things in perspective, he wasn’t allowed to buy any video games growing up; instead he programmed his first working computer game at the ripe age of 6, yes six, years old! Paul continued his illustrious career as a 13-year old paperboy, then burger flipper, and eventually working his way up through the ranks to the manger of a Toys R Us store. He realized he wanted to focus on science and pursued his schooling at University of South Florida doing research on the interaction of parasites and tadpoles, then New York counting ticks, and finally University of Georgia as a lab manager. Oh yeah, somewhere in-between he successfully mastered the bass guitar with his band mates and learned how to program virtual reality simulations, but I digress.
Back in the world of science, Paul is working with Dr. Blaustein’s Integrative Biology lab group in the College of Science that he first became aware of from his work with South African buffalo’s. Rather than beginning his disease ecology research with human trials, Paul is focusing on the #1 declining vertebrate taxa in the world. Amphibians have been sharply declining since the 1980’s and there have been no shortage of guesses, but sadly few answers as to why this is happening. Paul’s current project has identified a species-virus interaction (e.g. the number of species present impacts how the infection spreads). But Paul’s real interest and ongoing research lies in the very young field of ecoimmunology: how do the immune systems of organisms change over time in response to the environment they experience.
You’ll have to tune in to hear how he plans to rectify the molecular-scale view of immunology, with the large-scale controls from the environment. You can listen tonight September 18th 2016 at 7PM on the radio at 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis, or stream live at 7PM.