• Question: what animals do you study and what are you trying to learn?

    Asked by JacobT to Theresa on 27 Jun 2020.
    • Photo: Theresa Wacker

      Theresa Wacker answered on 27 Jun 2020: last edited 27 Jun 2020 11:03 am

      Hi Jacob,
      thanks for your question 🙂
      I am studying two things at the moment: one is a fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (salamandrivorans literally means “salamander devouring” because that is what it does) that infects salamanders and newts and one is a yeast, Cryptococcus neoformans, that infects us humans, as well as cats. Crypto is also seen in dogs, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, birds, and wild animals. I currently mostly look at the DNA of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (short: Bsal. Nobody can pronounce the long name 😉 ), so I am not actually studying it in animals. I am trying to learn how Bsal managed to become a pathogen in salamanders, as all but one of his fellow chytrids (the group (clade) of fungi it belongs to) cannot do that. They are the only two species of chytrids (Bsal and the other guy) that actually infect vertebrates (anything that actually has a spinal column, like us and salamanders). So, this is puzzling and the genome might tell us how it manages and also how it is so terribly efficient at it (it kills 87-100% of all animals it infects).
      In Crypto, I look at how the DNA is packaged (for more details, check out my profile, I explain it in more detail there) and try to find out how the packaging of DNA in this yeast influences its pathogenicity (how well it infects humans and animals) and its survival in us (since our immune system really gives it a hard time to do so). Since there is cancer meds out there, that actually influence DNA packaging, there is an idea that we might be able to use those to treat people infected with Crypto.
      I hope that helps a bit!
      All the best