Since 1978, the malaria research lab has always included an active group of graduate and undergraduate students and lab guide Dr. Joseph Schall. The photo shows the group in April 2014, all in our official lab t-shirts, including (from left) graduate student Alli Neal (with the phylogeny t-shirt), undergraduates Leslie Barnard, Max Ross, and Erin Keller, and Schall. Alli drew the great life cycle of P. mexicanum on the latest edition of our shirts. Max is taking a year off to join the real world (a job!) before starting graduate school, Leslie is starting a graduate program in public health at Tulane in the fall of 20-14, and Erin is planning to do her Senior Honors project in the lab.

Jos. J. Schall
Professor Emeritus of Biology
University of Vermont
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Jos. J. Schall joined faculty of the University of Vermont in 1980, and retired to Emeritus status in June 2014. He received his BS from Penn State, the MS from the University of Rhode Island, and the Ph.D. from the University of Texas. His interests in graduate school were community ecology and geographic trends in species richness. He conducted field work in the diverse Cnemidophorus lizard asemblage in the desert of SW Texas. Some of this work was published with his mentor, Eric Pianka. Schall's interests then shifted to parasites, and he was awarded an NIH individual postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked with noted parasitologist John Simmons.

Since 1978 he has conducted a long-term study of the malaria parasites of lizards (in both the lizard and insect vector) at a site in northern California (UC's Hopland Research and Extension Center field station), and several Caribbean sites, including a long-term study on the tiny islands of Saba and St. Martin and the LTER site at El Verde in Puerto Rico. A study in Sierra Leone, west Africa, while productive, had to end because of civil war. HIs current work centers on the biology of another apicomplexan parasite, Monocystis of earthworms. In a break from studies on parasites, he worked with graduate students Denise Dearing and Steve Ressel on diet selection by herbivorous lizards on small Caribbean islands and with graduate student Diane (Cannon) Faile on the nesting behavior of the Pelagic Cormorant.

Schall has been honored by the University of Vermont with the two highest awards for teaching excellence, and the university's highest award for research excellence. His research has been continuously funded for more than 30 years by the NSF, and by the Morris Animal Foundation for studies on avian malaria parasites. His work has resulted in more than 90 publications in major scientific journals. Although "retired" from active faculty duties, he continues his research and student mentoring.

Allison Neal
Graduate Student in Biology
University of Vermont
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Visit Alli's website

Alli entered our graduate program in the fall of 2009 and is due to receive her Ph.D. in August 2014. While a graduate student, Alli received three wonderful honors: She was awarded the EAPSI NSF summer fellowship to study with Robert Poulin in New Zealand. Her work with Dr. Poulin centered on how the larvae of a marine trematode worm finds its preferred substrate, and resulted in a publication in Journal of Parasitology. That study required Alli to spend time splashing in the winter seawater of New Zealand's beautiful coast. Soon after learning of the EAPSI award, Alli learned that she was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship for three years, which is perhaps the highest honor for a science graduate student. Then, to complete the NSF trifecta, Alli was awarded the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to student the ecology of the vector of the lizard malaria parasite Plasmodium mexicanum .

The thrust of Alli's dissertation project was to examine the gametocyte sex ratio of Plasmodium mexicanum, particularly the influence of clonal diversity within an infection on the parasite's sex ratio. She uses a combination of classical parasitological techniques (hundreds of hours on the microscope), modern molecular methods (genotyping infections using variable genetic markers), experimental manipulations of infection diversity, and modeling. Alli demonstrated that there is genetic diversity for sex ratio when parasites are in single-clone infections, only the second time this has been documented (although the effect may be common). That study was published in Parasitology, Alli's first publication. Alli's second publication, also in Parasitology, examined the relationship between the fecundity (number of gametes produced) for male gametocyte cells and infection sex ratio (the relationship matched expectations of sex ratio theory). A publication, in Evolutionary Ecology used a life history approach to examine interaction of life history traits and the genetic basis for variation in those traits. Alli now has a publication in press in Evolution on the sex ratios seen in natural infection showing a fit to theory.

Alli is also an avid teacher, and has volunteered at a local Middle School, and has taken a series of undergrad and high school researchers under wing both in the field and the lab. She was invited three years in a row to give the plenary lecture to the incoming Honors College students, and has represented the department at a grad school fair in Boston. The Biology Department is very lucky that Alli has accepted an offer for a Lecturer position for the coming academic year when she will teach a large section of Introductory Biology as well as Science as a Way of Knowing, and important course for nonmajors.

Alli will remain a valuable member of the malaria lab by continuing her research and bringing students from her courses into the research project.

Erin Keller
Undergraduate Research Student
University of Vermont
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Erin is a Biological Sciences BS major and was a student in Schall's Honors section of introductory biology during her first semester. She was intrigued with the sections of the course dealing with pathogens and that led her to read over the publications here on the lab website. At the very beginning of her Sophomore year Erin showed up in the lab ready to join in the research projects.

Erin quickly became a valuable member of the lab group, first helping Max Ross, a Senior Undergraduate Research Student, with his project on the population generics of the sandfly vector of P. mexicanum, and then was lured into the Monocystis project. This past summer she was working more-or-less full time (in addition to taking a Physics course with lab!) in the lab and field on that study. Erin worked with Schall to test a panel of microsatellite markers in the genome of Monocystis, the first time such markers have been found for any gregarine parasite. She then collaborated in working out the techniques to extract the DNA from the very tough cysts of the parasite. Perhaps the most fun part of the project, Erin did the field work to gather earthworms to determine the prevalence of the parasite. There are about 15 earthworm species in Vermont, so she became an apprentice with UVM's earthworm and soils expert, Dr. Josef Gorres of the Plant and Soil Science Department, to learn how to collect and identify these amazing animals. The picture shows Erin collecting worms in a standard 1 m x 1 m plot.

Outside of her academic activities, Erin is an avid runner, and has competed in many races, including the infamous Spartan Beast 13 mile obstacle course. Those kind of races prepare her well for the long haul in doing research that requires so much stamina! During the Fall Semester, we will lose her to Norway where she will be a visiting student taking a series of courses and developing her skills in spoken Norwegian. But, Erin plans to be back in the lab genotyping Monocystis infections in the earthworms she collected during the summer.

Erin has very broad interests in science, but is determined to pursue graduate studies in biology and hopes for a career in research dealing with public health. Of course, it would be great if that involves parasites!

Max Ross
Senior Undergraduate Research Student
University of Vermont
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Max has just received his Biology degree in May 2014, with History minor, He was a student in the Ecological Parasitology course in his Junior year and more-or-less moved into the research lab to help with research on Monocystis. He then wrote a proposal for a summer research fellowship from the university and was one of only a very few awarded! Max just about lived in the lab all summer, and moved on to his Senior research project in the fall. Max is one of those researchers with the magic touch: everything he works on in the lab yields great results. For his Senior research project, Max worked closely with Alli Neal on the genetic diversity of the sandfly vector of Plasmodium mexicanum using microsatellite markers. Alli and Max developed a panel of markers that give very clean data (at least, they are always clean for Max). The project asks if there is geographic variation in the sandfly over small spatial scales, and seeks to give some information on the population size of the insect. A puzzle at the California research site is the very patchy distribution of the malaria parasite in lizards; Sites only a few hundred meters apart may have infected lizards, and the others with no malaria -- and this pattern has been seen for over 30 years. This suggested the vector may move very little, and thus opens the door for local genetic differentiation. Alli and Max are now working up the results, so watch for some very interesting findings.

Besides making himself invaluable in the lab, and getting great data, Max was also on the university gymnastics team, and traveled the country to compete in major competitions. So, when he is not deftly handling tiny drops of fluid in the lab, he is flying through the air on the high rings. Max will continue with gymnastics after graduation, and also plans to attend graduate school, perhaps working with infectious diseases or medical entomology. But, first, he will take a year "off" working, including coaching gymnastics.

Leslie Barnard
Senior Undergraduate Research Student
University of Vermont
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Leslie, Max, and Dr. Schall all first connected when Leslie and Max were in the honors section of Schall's introductory biology course in their first semester at UVM. Leslie went on to work in Dr. Sara Helms Cahan's lab (ant ecology and evolution), but decided to try something different for her Senior year, and so came to the malaria lab. Leslie already had outstanding lab skills from her time in the ant lab, and so very quickly became an important member of the lab, and stepped up to help Max with his sandfly work. Leslie ended up pretty much living in the lab to help push the work along at an even faster pace. For her final semester, Leslie worked on her own project, a look at the variation in the flanking regions for the microsatellite markers.

Leslie was a Biology major with minors in Chemistry and Nutrition. Outside of research and academics, Leslie is a competitive shooter! She shoots skeet and trap (trap involves two targets in the air at once, one of the toughest challenges in shooting). During her senior year, Leslie traveled to the East Coast College Championships at George Mason University where almost 200 students competed over a two day period (100 shots each for trap and skeet each day). Leslie placed first among women, and fourth overall! Then, Leslie went for broke competing in the major US College competition and placed first again among women and second only to a shooter from West Point!

Leslie's plans a career in public health. She was admitted to some of the best public health graduate programs in the country, and and in Fall 2014 will begin a graduate program at Tulane University. Congratulations to Leslie.