College of Arts and Sciences Writer
Dr. Elizabeth Warburton is packing her bags to head to Israel for a 20-month stint as a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. She will work with Professor Boris Krasnov, a leading international expert in parasitology.
Warburton 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,” said Warburton. “I’m also excited to explore a new part of the world with its different landscape and culture. I like new experiences.”
Warburton, 35, 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.
She 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 said. “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. She has been working with WMU Biological Sciences Professor Maarten Vonhof 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 Professor Krasnov’s work while she was researching her dissertation. She contacted him to sponsor her application for the Fulbright—and he heartily agreed.
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 Oikos on the patterns of parasite community dissimiliarity, which examines the significant role of land use and lack of distance-decay in a bat-helminth system.