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Oklahoma State University

OSU doctoral student pioneers parasitology research in Iceland

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Christina Anaya, a doctoral candidate from Fallbrook, Calif. and Fulbright scholar at Oklahoma State University, has taken her parasitology research to Iceland.

Christina Anaya, a doctoral candidate from Fallbrook, Calif. and Fulbright scholar at Oklahoma State University, has taken her parasitology research to Iceland.

Due to climate change, new species of parasites may be introduced to the island nation, something Anaya said makes it the perfect place for this research. Her work focuses on using snails as biodiversity indicators because many parasites use snails as an intermediate host, which will allow her to collect data for her dissertation on hairworms, a species of parasite found in snails. Anaya is part of the integrative biology department in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Not only is Iceland diverse enough to be named the ‘land of fire and ice,’ but it is unfortunately undergoing severe climatic changes,” Anaya said. “Its glaciers are melting, which can cool some streams, and as mobile animals such as birds move north, they bring along their parasites that may colonize. Therefore, it is important to know what parasites are here now so we can track changes in the future.”

Although Fulbright Program scholarships normally support researchers for nine months, Anaya hopes to extend her stay with additional funding from her Women for OSU Scholarship.

“Winter days have only four to six hours of light, so during the winter, my research is focused on the coastal communities with marine snails because they are not frozen,” Anaya said. “However, the most beneficial time for me to do my research is during the summer when many migrants arrive from the southern regions carrying parasites and potentially bringing new ones in.”

Anaya is collecting baseline data to increase the knowledge of biodiversity of parasites in Iceland, located in the North Atlantic, and will likely discover new species and new host associations of parasites, Bolek said.

“Once this project is finished, Christina will have created a great method for other people to use to survey the parasite-to-host interaction in a relatively quick way. Very few people have used the technique of actually looking into the snails’ tissue for new parasites,” said Dr. Matt Bolek, associate professor of parasitology, who serves as Anaya’s research adviser.

A part of the project allows Anaya to visit natural history museums and look at research collections of Iceland’s animals and parasites. Some of the parasite samples have been collected by accident and have remained unidentified.

Visiting with and learning about Icelandic culture is one of the best aspects of the trip, Anaya said.

“I could not imagine going to a foreign country and not experiencing the culture,” Anaya said. “I make opportunities for this and volunteer for anything. I’m really good at making the most of it and experiencing as much as I can.”

Anaya said she is thankful for the mentoring, guidance and support she has received from colleagues, the OSU Writing Center and several professors, including former Fulbright program adviser Dr. Steve Hallgren.

“OSU has been the most integral part of my success,” Anaya said. “Students have so many opportunities and resources available to them at OSU, and I am convinced that without them, I would not be here.”

Anaya said being able to mentor students and share scientific knowledge is one of the most rewarding parts of her work. It is particularly important to her to mentor underrepresented minorities and women in science.

Anaya credits a former freshman scholar, Abigail Wright, as one of the students who helped her complete her lab studies. Wright, a physiology major at OSU, received a Top 20 Freshman award after serving as a freshman research scholar with Anaya’s guidance.

“I am most interested in sharing my work with young students who are considering careers in science or need inspiration to go and accomplish their dreams,” Anaya said.

To read about Anaya’s research and activities in Iceland, visit

Story by Aubrie Bowlan


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