WIUM Tristates Public Radio

WIU Professor: Parasites Creepy in a Good Way

Nov 27, 2013

When he was in an undergraduate biology major at the University of Iowa , Shawn Meagher, saw a flier for a parasitology course and had an immediate reaction.

“And I thought, oh man, who'd ever spend their time doing that?” he said.

One of Professor Shawn Meagher's students looked at parasite levels in fish in spring lake.
Credit Rich Egger

Now he is biology professor at Western Illinois University and teaches parasitology courses, as well as conducts parasitology research.

Meagher said when he's teaching his parasitology courses he emphasizes three things to get past that initial reaction.

  • Most animals are parasitic:I.E.-For every free living species there are several that live inside it. "So from a basic biological diversity standpoint if you want to understand ecology, if you want to understand evolution, if most of life is parasitic you should know something about it," Meagher said.
  • Parasites are important. Meagher said they have huge implications for human health and agriculture. "One thing I try to emphasize to students in Illinois is that even though its not the case for us here, most people on earth are infected by parasitic things," he said.
  • They're creepy. He said," minimally, these animals provide awesome party conversation!"

The project at Spring Lake looked at why two species of fish that were know to both be vulnerable to the same parasite have vastly different numbers of the worm.  He said a grad student looked at he numbers of white grub on bluegills and crappies.

He said the crappies had maybe 10 parasites while the bluegill would would be infested with thousands. As of now, he said, they don't yet know why this is or what effect it has.

Professor Shawn Meagher
Credit WIU

The other project looked at how parasites in mice could affect how forests recover from wild fires. That research involved a researcher from Poland.