Shown are LHU students studying the cause of White Nose Syndrome in bats. From left, are Kayla Riehle, Natasha Ortiz, James Nye, Michael Hudson, Eric Shuffelbottom, Abigail Rea and Katelynn Owens.
Lock Haven University, in collaboration with the PA Game Commission and Temple University, are studying the effectiveness of the antifungal agent polyethylene glycol 8000 (PEG) to inhibit the growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the causative agent of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats. This research recently was featured in National Geographic.
Many treatments currently focus on the bat, not the environment, where the Pd pathogen occurs. PEG previously has been used in agriculture as a seed treatment to control fungal-induced seed spoilage in cold storage. If PEG proves successful, the project ultimately will develop a tool for inhibiting the growth of Pd where the bats hibernate.
Lock Haven University was awarded $91,757 for the project, which has a total budget of $157,757.
“This grant has afforded LHU students the opportunity to work alongside of wildlife professionals with the PA Game Commission, such as Greg Turner a co-PI on the grant and Dr. Brent Sewall, a bat biologist from Temple University (also a Co-PI) on a real world problem affecting everyone in PA,” said Dr. Barrie Overton, professor of biology and LHU and principal investigator (PI) on the grant. “Bats provide numerous ecosystem services such as eating pests of crops and mosquitoes, which benefits all Pennsylvanians, but their population has been decimated by this devastating fungal disease.”
There are seven upper-level LHU students actively working on the project. They are Michael Casey Hudson, a senior in the cellular and molecular track; Eric Charles Shuffelbottom Jr., a senior in the cellular and organismal track; James R. Nye, a senior in the general biology track and non-traditional student that also is an eighth grade science teacher at Bellefonte Area Middle School; Katelynn Owens, a junior studying health sciences; Kayla Mae Riehle, a senior in the cellular and organismal track; Abigail E. Rea, a junior in the general biology track; and Natasha Marie Ortiz, a senior in the cellular and organismal track.
“These students all take challenging classes, work long hours at internships and other jobs and do this research in addition to their normal college responsibilities,” Overton said. “Often I find myself working side-by-side with them late into the evening and they never complain. I find them to have an incredible level of professionalism and dedication to the project.”
Nye plans to take the advanced DNA techniques and information he has learned to his own classroom and continue his studies on infectious disease. Shuffelbottom plans to pursue veterinary medicine following graduation and has gained valuable wildlife experience working on the project. Rea has gained experience using the scanning electron microscope and BX53 research microscope on the project and has a strong interest in microscopic techniques. Ortiz has developed a strong interest in fungal biology and hopes to look for employment in a laboratory working in this area. Hudson plans to attend graduate school to study molecular methods and biotechnology that can be used to eradicate human diseases. Riehle plans to attend medical school and continue her work in emergency medicine. Owens plans to get a physician assistant degree and specialize in dermatology.
Owens noted when agreeing to work on the project that WNS is a skin infection so understanding how it causes death in bats and the evolution of the fungus is invaluable to someone that plans to study skin infections in humans.
To read more about the project in National Geographic, visit https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/11/white-nose-syndrome-bat-fungus-treatment-animals-news/
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Lock Haven University is a member of Pennsylvania’s State System, the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas of study. Nearly 520,000 system alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
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