Wed 14 Jul 2010
By Sarah Stanley
One morning this month, students in the MBL’s Biology of Parasitism (BoP) course learned all about the parasitic worm Schistosoma mansoni (left, courtesy of eol.org) and its effects on the body. Lecturer Andrew S. MacDonald of University of Edinburgh led the class through a detailed overview of the freshwater-borne worm, which can directly enter the skin upon contact. Over 200 million people worldwide are currently infected with Schistosoma, making it an important focus of research.
While the invading strategies of parasites understandably attract a lot of attention, the BoP course is also focusing heavily on interactions between parasites and the immune system. “Without looking at the immune system, you’re only looking at half the story of the parasite,” MacDonald emphasized during his talk. Indeed, according to course faculty member Yasmine Belkaid of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one major theme of this year’s BoP course is how microbes naturally found in the intestines affect the body’s immune response to intruders.
Later that day, BoP students explored this theme in their lab work, looking at the immune responses of mice exposed to Schistosoma. By the end of their seven weeks here, students will have drawn on several areas of biology to explore a variety of topics in parasitism, including details of malaria infection and drug design for patients infected with parasites.
“I love parasitology because it’s not an isolated field,” Belkaid says. “There are lots of fields to touch on: immunology, molecular biology, evolution, and ecology, for example.”
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the BoP course.