Museum of Southwestern Biology
Museum of Southwestern Biology

The Museum of Southwestern Biology is a research and teaching facility in the Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico.

open weekdays 8am - 5pm
visitors welcome by appointment
information for visitors

phone: (505) 277-1360
fax: (505) 277-1351
museum administrator


Museum of Southwestern Biology
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

University of New Mexico
302 Yale Blvd NE
CERIA 83, Room 204
Albuquerque, NM, USA 87131

Emerging Pathogens and Zoonotics

Coevolution Between Birds and Malaria

Avian malaria doesn't infect humans, but it is found in birds everywhere, it is shockingly diverse, and we know very little about it. Recent work by the MSB Bird Division showed that avian malaria jumps from one host species to another frequently, forming new species as it goes. The MSB Bird Division is on the front lines of studying this avian scourge, finding hundreds of new malaria lineages in New Mexico and Peru. We archive these on glass slide mounts and in our frozen tissues collection. Our work is already showing how this diverse group of wildlife diseases affects bird biodiversity and we expect it will also improve understanding of zoonoses that threaten human health.

avian malaria

Human Schistosomiasis

schistosomiasis life cycle

Human schistosomiasis still afflicts over 200 million people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and current control efforts are dangerously uni-dimensional, relying on extensive use of a single drug to treat infected people. Alternative forms of control are needed, particularly those targeting the parasite as it develops in its snail host, if more sustainable control is to be attained and the WHO’s goal of the elimination of human schistosomiasis as a public health problem by 2025 is to be achieved. Adult worms of Schistosoma mansoni develop in the vascular system of humans, often children, and cycle through an aquatic planorbid snail (Biomphalaria). In cooperation of scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, MSB Division of Parasitology scientists are investigating the impact of one form of biotic diversity – the number of digenetic trematode species present – on the transmission of the human parasite S. mansoni in a variety of different habitats in western Kenya. Our goal is to exploit the biodiversity present in such habitats – in the form of diverse trematode species and the competitive interactions they have with schistosomes – to diminish the number of S. mansoni infections in snails, thereby limiting the number of human-infecting cercariae they produce. This entire approach depends on characterization of the diversity of the parasites present, and establishing a collection within MSB that can be accessed by others so they can understand the nature of this diversity and how it might be exploited elsewhere in the world for trematode control. One of the goals of our division is to understand how the complexity of biotic environments influences the transmission of infectious diseases. ​Our extensive collection of trematodes of snails, to which we are continually adding, is one of the largest museum holdings of larval trematodes from snails.

Genetic Diversity of Hantaviruses in Non-rodent Mammals

Since the 1993 emergence of the Sin Nombre hantavirus in the Four Corners region and subsequent death of more than 20 humans that summer, the Museum of Southwestern Biology has been heavily involved in virus identification, host-pathogen ecology and evolution. Recently this work was stimulated through a series of collaborative efforts with Dr. Ric Yanagihara of the John Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii. Over the past 10 years, our collaborative group has identified >20 novel hantaviruses in shrews, moles and even bats that have been recovered from archived museums collections (many of these at MSB). These newfound hantaviruses segregate into host clades, are spread across 5 continents, and are genetically more diverse than those harbored by rodents suggesting that the evolutionary history of hantaviruses is far more complex than previously conjectured. Future studies will explore transmission dynamics and pathogenic potential of these newly discovered hantaviruses.

Neoromicia nanus

Genetic Diversity of Schistosomes and Epidemiology of Cercarial Dermatitis

schistosome life cycle

Cercarial dermatitis, or swimmer's itch is a skin condition caused by an allergic reaction to a larval form of a schistosome trematode following contact with marine or fresh water. Schistosomes have a two host life cycle, adult worms live in birds or mammals, and larval forms are found in aquatic snails. Numerous reports have been documented around the world, except Antarctica. Museum of Southwestern Biology has assumed a big role in identifying specific agents of these outbreaks, their hosts and biology. Because of the diversity work on schistosomes worldwide, this work has also resulted in cooperation and publication with the CDC. Outbreaks have a considerable impact on local tourism based economies especially in recreational lakes. Cercarial dermatitis has also become recognized as a debilitating occupational disease among rice farmers, in particular, and incur costs in terms of lost person work hours. While there are focal areas known for outbreaks, in some regions, cercarial dermatitis has become a new problem because it was previously unknown or the number of reported outbreaks or of people affected has increased. Consequently, cercarial dermatitis is now regarded as a re-emerging disease. Drs. Sara Brant and Sam Loker at MSB lead many of these diversity studies and work collaboratively with other schistosome specialists internationally to continue to describe the global diversity of schistosomes as well as the epidemiology of cercarial dermatitis. read more...