Local alumna selected for fellowship, to study parasitology in Israel

contact: Deanne Puca
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. Elizabeth Warburton.

Warburton

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A recent Western Michigan University graduate, Dr. Elizabeth Warburton   is headed to Israel Nov. 1 for a 20-month stint as a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. She will work with Dr. Boris Krasnov, a leading international expert in parasitology.

Originally of Niles, Warburton, a 2014 WMU doctoral graduate, will study the fitness costs of parasitism in Meriones crassus, a desert rodent, which is native to the area. Fitness refers to the natural selection of traits that impact future generations of species.

"This is an amazing opportunity to work with Professor Krasnov," says Warburton. "I'm also excited to explore a new part of the world with its different landscape and culture. I like new experiences."

She has been researching the ecology of host-parasite interactions since she was an undergraduate biology student at St. Mary’s College of Notre Dame. There she researched the relationship between parasites that have left eggs in the soil and earthworms that move those eggs through the soil.

Dr. Elizabeth Warburton

Warburton initially became interested in parasitology through frequent visits to her mother’s family’s farm in Indiana and during a part-time job at a veterinary clinic near South Bend, Indiana. The vet clinic led her to take a course in parasitology at St. Mary’s and introduced her to a "whole new world."

"People don’t think about parasites or their impact on the Earth and in animals and human beings," she says. "They can affect the immune response in mammals and even modulate allergic and autoimmune responses."

Warburton wrote her senior thesis on parasitology, which led her to Emporia State University in Kansas, where she earned her Master of Science degree in biological science. She studied parasite evolution in free-living roundworms and their likelihood of adapting to the parasitic lifestyle.

After working for a time at MPI Research in Mattawan, she developed contacts at WMU and subsequently became a doctoral student in biological science, graduating with her Ph.D. in 2014. She has been working with WMU's Dr. Maarten Vonhof, associate professor of biological sciences, to research how and why parasites are distributed in the manner that they are around the world and why certain hosts are more likely to be infected than others.

Warburton became acquainted with Krasnov’s work while she was researching her dissertation. He sponsored her application for the Fulbright.

Warburton has received accolades from the American Society of Parasitologists, the American Society of Mammalogists, the Southwestern Association of Parasitologists and the Annual Midwestern Conference of Parasitologists. She has received awards for outstanding research at Emporia State and WMU. Her recent publication includes an article in the journal Oikos on the patterns of parasite community dissimilarity, which examines the significant role of land use and lack of distance-decay in a bat-helminth system.

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