Josh Sassi holding a lizard during his research

Norwich University Senior biology major Joshua Sassi, of Woodbury, Vt., will present his research on the ecology of the lizard malaria parasite at this year’s Annual Poster’s on the Hill event April 17-18 in Washington, D.C.

Hosted by the Council on Undergraduate Research, Posters on the Hill 2018 will showcase 60 top student research projects from over 400 applications. Sassi is the only student chosen from the state of Vermont.

Sassi has completed two research projects while at Norwich, both relating to the ecology of the lizard malaria parasite Plasmodium mexicanum. The first project looked at how drought affects the prevalence of the parasite. The second project looks at whether patterns of coinfection of P. mexicanum and another parasite, Schellackia sp., are suggestive of strong interactions within their lizard hosts. The second project is what he will be presenting at Posters on the Hill. The title of his project for Posters on the Hill is “Investigation of Parasitic Co-infection in the Western Fence Lizard.”

Understanding the factors that control parasite transmission and prevalence is important for reducing human exposure to disease-causing organisms. Often these factors are ecological: they include things like how the parasite interacts with its host(s), how the parasite is affected by environmental factors like temperature or water, and how other organisms that are necessary for the parasite’s development, such as insects that transmit the parasite, are affected by their environment and the organisms in it. Malaria parasites infect hundreds of millions of people each year and we still struggle to understand some of the basic ecology of the parasite, like why the risk of infection can vary so much on small spatial scales. Sassi’s research aims to improve our understanding of the ecology of these parasites by focusing on how living and non-living factors (co-infecting parasites and severe drought) may impact the prevalence of a lizard parasite that is closely related to the parasites that cause malaria in humans.

“We hope that Josh’s research will have a positive impact on society by improving our understanding of malaria parasite ecology and by highlighting the potential importance of coinfection, an often-overlooked aspect of disease ecology, on disease progression and disease risk,” said faculty advisor Assistant Professor of Biology Allison Neal.

About Norwich University

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation's six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). 

Norwich will celebrate its bicentennial in 2019. In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders, Norwich launched the Forging the Future campaign in 2014. The five-year campaign, which is timed to culminate in 2019, is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities and is designed to enhance the university’s strong position as it steps into its third century of service to the nation.

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