Home of Professor Allison Neal's Faculty Voices Blog
Allison Neal is a member of the Department of Biology at Norwich University. Her teaching and research interests include parasitology, ecology, evolution, genetics and microbiology. Dr. Neal also currently serves on the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the Library Committee, and is the co-director of the Vermont STEM Fair.
Dr. Neal’s research on the evolution and ecology of parasites currently focuses trematode parasites in Vermont. Trematodes are flatworm parasites with complex, multi-host life cycles. This research combines fieldwork, microscopy and population genetics. Neal and her students collect snails, examine amazing parasites with a microscope, and analyze the genetics of parasites and their hosts.
Read more about some of the great parasites found in Vermont and the great students studying them in Dr. Neal's Voices posts.
Mary is a senior biology major who joined the lab in 2019 through a summer fellowship from the Vermont Genetics Network. She has continued to work in the lab this fall, focusing on using DNA barcoding to identify trematode species collected over the summer and also helping to develop new genetic markers (microsatellites) that would allow us to differentiate between different individual parasites of the same species. Mary is passionate about genetics and loves running PCRs (polymerase chain reactions, a lab technique used to make lots of copies of a gene you’re interested in) and gel electrophoresis (a lab technique that lets you ‘see’ and measure the size of DNA). She is also one of the only students I have ever met who actually likes writing tiny sample numbers on tubes the size of a pencil eraser (and she’s good at it!).
If you know anything about parasites, you’ve probably heard the better-than-fiction tales of ‘bugs’ that cause rats to recklessly seek out cats, fungi to burst out of ants like a scene out of Alien, and snails to show off their colorful, pulsating antennae to hungry birds. (If you haven’t, do a quick search for Toxoplasma, Cordiceps or Leucochloridium- you won’t be disappointed!) Parasites are famous for the ways they can alter their hosts’ behavior and appearance to ensure their passage from one victim to the next. Even parasites whose adaptations aren’t quite as showy often have fascinating lives, complete with mind-boggling strategies for getting from one host to the next.