Featured Project: Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair

Jai Ranganathan

Today’s featured #SciFund Challenge project is Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair by Marisa Tellez.

smiling alligator
Why is this american alligator smiling? Because he's got #SciFund power!

Let’s cut to the chase. Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair is all about american alligators, which is a thousand kinds of awesome right there. But there’s even more awesome in this project, as it combines really interesting natural history, an important conservation message, and… alligator parasites.

First off, who knew that alligators had parasites? It turns out that parasites in general – not just alligator parasites – are  essential players in maintaining the health of ecosystems. Did you know that roughly 75% of the connections between organisms in nature involve parasites? And we basically know nothing about them. But there clearly must be something important going on there.

Case in point: the american alligator. Alligator parasites may actually be helping alligators, by somehow improving the ability of their immune systems to fend off alligator diseases. And these parasites have evolved with alligators over millions of years, forming a unique bond that isn’t easily replaced.

And here where’s the cool conservation part of the story comes in.  It turns out that these alligator parasites are really vulnerable to water pollution. If the parasites wink out due to pollution, the alligators may also disappear due to suddenly-crippled immune systems.

human parasite
A terrifying-looking human parasite. Good thing this hookworm is not actually this big.

That’s where Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair comes in. Marisa is studying precisely how pollutants are affecting the alligator-parasite bond and alligator immune systems generally. It is fascinating work that might have a lot of importance for understanding the connection between humans and our many parasites.

So, why don’t you head over to Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair and help fund Marisa’s research? She is approaching 50% of her financial target and you could be the one to get her over the hump. Check it out!

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