Jill Myers says that her dream scenario is to do collaborative research with scholars from different disciplines to solve disease-based conservation problems. She seems to be on the right track. A class on mathematical models in biology introduced her to Dr Brian Walton (Mathematics and Statistics) and Dr Reid Harris (Biology), who approached her at the end of the class to ask if she would be interested in doing research.

In her junior year, Jill started working with them on a fungal pathogen that has decimated amphibian populations worldwide. A curious aspect of the disease is that some amphibian populations are able to co-exist with the fungus (which is called BD), while others are destroyed. Jill is looking at the various defenses that frogs and salamanders have, and how they might be helping some populations combat infection by BD.

Amphibians have innate defenses, like antimicrobial chemicals secreted by the skin, but they also have bacteria living on their skin that can produce fungus-fighting compounds of their own. Jill’s project involves looking at both strategies and seeing how they work alone and together. Then she will create a mathematical model to predict which conditions will allow the amphibians to co-exist with BD and which conditions will result in widespread mortality.

For example, she will look at how many fungal zoospores can encyst on an amphibian before it dies, what the reinfection rate is, the fecundity of the pathogen and the host and also the effect of the antifungal compounds on the infection rate at different concentrations of zoospores.

Jill will be using her research to write an honors thesis. She says that she loves doing research because of the freedom and creativity that it allows.

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