Welcome to the Division on Parasites
The MSB Division of Parasites currently has about 20,000 catalogued specimens and is an integrated collection whereby many of our parasite specimens have direct links in particular to their host vouchers here at MSB and other institutions, GenBank, and BerkeleyMapper/GoogleEarth. We currently have parasites with hosts catalogued in MSB Divisions of Amphibians and Reptiles, Arthropods, Birds and Mammals. We are also in a unique and exciting position here at MSB as all our divisions are actively collection specimens in the field, and thus we are afforded opportunities to obtain and catalogue parasite material directly linked to other active research projects.
Highlights of Our Collection
- The largest collection of parasite specimens from high latitude projects, mainly from small mammals, that include the lifetime collection of Robert L and Virginia R. Rausch
- A consecutive 10 year dataset of mammal parasites from the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research Station in New Mexico
- The largest and most diverse collection of schistosome trematodes from all over the world
- A searchable database online ARCTOS where each parasite record, where applicable, is linked to their host voucher, GenBank, publications, GoogleEarth or any other external link.
Mission of the Division of Parasites
At least half of the world’s species live in or on another organism and cause that host organism some measure of harm while themselves deriving benefit – in other words, they are parasites. Collectively parasites represent an enormous reservoir of largely-unstudied genetic diversity and capacity, and present unique and astonishing features worthy of admiration and preservation for posterity. The primary mission of the Division of Parasitology is to preserve as much of this diversity as possible. Biodiversity is today imperiled by a number of factors – habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, urbanization, globalization, rapid climate change and introduction of exotic species, to name some. Any of these forces that conspire to cause extinctions of host species very likely also cause co-extinction events, meaning that specialized parasites dependent on the host in question will also be extirpated. One of our goals is to collect, characterize and preserve as many parasite species as possible before they no longer exist. It is particularly tragic when extinctions occur of species we never even knew existed, or never had a chance to understand.
Another intersection between biodiversity and parasitology that is currently receiving a great deal of attention is the extent to which biotic diversity either enhances or diminishes the transmission of infectious diseases to humans and our domestic animals and plants. This topic becomes of special interest to the Division of Parasitology when the infectious diseases in question are caused by various species of parasitic worms (or helminths), which are a special focus of our collections. We are interested not only in understanding the diversity of the parasites responsible for causing disease, but also in revealing how these parasites are either favored or disfavored by the nature of the environments in which they occur. Biotically complex environments might either favor transmission of such parasites by ensuring all the hosts needed for their complex life cycles are provided, or they may actually hinder transmission, by supporting many other parasite species that actively compete with medically important worms for access to needed hosts. The impacts of habitat simplification, unfortunately now a regular occurrence in the modern world, on transmission of medically important helminths are often unpredictable. By characterizing, cataloging and tracking helminth diversity, our division can provide needed reference points for ascertaining the impact of biodiversity, and its loss, on transmission of important infectious diseases.
A related goal with respect to parasites of medical or veterinary importance is to help assess the impact of parasite control operations now underway in many parts of the world. These control programs have the potential not only to change the genetic constitution of the parasites themselves, but may eventually result in their elimination. Because these parasites have enormous health impacts and represent such a significant part of our collective human experience, one of our goals is to receive and preserve specimens of parasites of medical or veterinary significance such that they can become reference points by which we can measure the nature of parasite control and its long-term impacts on parasite diversity.
Yet another important mission is to support the discipline of systematic parasitology, the goals of which are in many ways overlapping with those mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. Systematic parasitologists document the diversity of the world’s parasites and seek to understand the evolutionary processes responsible for generating it. They also seek to achieve a deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of parasite-host relationships. We want the Division of Parasitology to be a well-curated repository for parasites that are then freely available for future generations of parasitologists to study and interpret. Ideally, parasite specimens will be made available in forms where their genetic material (potentially entire genomes) can eventually be characterized, and their anatomical features, and relationships with their hosts fully understood. Accordingly, we hope to curate parasite specimens in a way that pertinent collection information is fully integrated with data pertaining to the hosts from which they were collected.
Finally, an important goal of the Division is to serve to interface with, and educate the public regarding all aspects of the fascinating biology of parasites. Years of study of the biology of parasites have taught us that people are intrinsically fascinated by parasites, a fascination that can only be expected to deepen if we do our job and increase public awareness and understanding of them.
Because our resources are limited and we must retain focus, the Division of Parasitology reserves the right to decide which parasite materials are worthy of accession.