BSP Travel Award recipient Ciaran McCoy

Field of Dreams

A field report from Iowa, funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award

“Is this heaven?... No, it's Iowa”

The primary focus of my PhD is the development of a reverse genetic platform within the model animal parasitic nematode, Ascaris suum.  Due to the emergence of drug resistance, the future prevention and treatment of animal parasitic nematode infections depend upon the development of novel control options.  RNA interference (RNAi) can facilitate the elucidation of gene function and validation of novel drug targets.

Ciaran with collaborators
Ciaran with collaborators
Induction of RNAi responses in animal parasitic nematodes has proven difficult; however in adult Ascaris suum all of the genes targeted to date appear to be susceptible to RNAi.  Despite this we have not observed any crude phenotypes (motility defects or death) following statistically significant, systematic and reproducible gene knockdown, suggesting that we may have to employ a more sensitive post-RNAi assay to detect the phenotypic effects of gene knockdown.

I have been very fortunate to visit the labs of Prof. Richard Martin and Dr. Alan Robertson at Iowa State University (ISU) in the pursuit of an elusive post-RNAi phenotype.  The work completed at ISU was based largely on the employment of a highly sensitive electrophysiology-based post-RNAi assay.  As we do not have access to this specialised equipment here in Belfast, my trip to Iowa has made it possible for us to accurately quantify the responsiveness of individual nematode muscle cells to a range of nicotinic agonists following the knockdown of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits.  During the three months that I spent I Iowa I also had the opportunity to dabble in a little tissue specific expression analysis and assess antihelmintic responses in Xenopus oocytes expressing nematode nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits.  The data associated with this study are currently being analysed and we hope to publish the results in the near future. (Fingers crossed).

Extracurricular activities included occasional in pub scientific debates, Independence Day celebrations and a (self-funded) trip to New York and Boston prior to my return home.  Despite the difficulties associated with a flooded kitchen, mangled worms, tornado warnings and vending-machine-derived dinners I feel that the trip was very productive and highly enjoyable.

During my stay in Iowa I have learnt a range of new techniques, produced a substantial electrophysiology-based dataset, which will form the basis of a PhD thesis chapter, and made several new friends and potential future collaborators.  I would like to thanks the British Society of Parasitology for facilitating my visit to ISU and my host lab for their hospitality and good company.

Blog post by Ciaran McCoy, Queen’s University Belfast

Several BSP student members have recently benefitted from the BSP International Training and Fieldwork awards. For further details please see the link

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