virulence

Peter W Pappas ppappas at magnus.acs.ohio-state.edu
Thu Dec 15 07:27:20 EST 1994


In Eric's response to my responce he points out he was speaking of fitness of 
the HOST, not the parasite ... I, of course, was considering only the 
parasite's view!  But, the again, as I mull this over perhaps both of us are 
mistaken and we should be considering BOTH the host and the parasite 
simultaneously.  Eric mentions another good point, and that is that the 
definitions we are using may mean different things to different people.  What's
virulence?  What's pathology?  Surely, the definitions of these terms are going
to vary among ecologists, epidemiologists, pathologists, etc., so those working
in different areas of host-parasite relationships might have quite different 
views of such relationships.

While I'm on the line I would also like to respond to the several notes 
regarding the training of parasitologists.  Having been teaching for over 20 
years (OUCH !) at a "major" research institution (at least we all believe OSU 
is such), and having trained about six Ph.D.'s ALL of whom went on to 
postdoctorals or jobs in research/academia, I think I can speak with some 
authority.  As someone else said in another note (sorry for lack of appropriate
citation here), the days of the "general parasitologist" are over if they ever 
existed.  I tend to agree with this statement, to a point.  As I tell my 
incoming students, there are rarely job openings for a "parasitologist," and 
such positions when they appear are usually in small liberal arts schools or 
professional schools; thus, the type of graduate training depends to a great 
degree on a student's career goals.  If a student hopes to get a job at a major
academic institution, then he/she must be able to sell him/herself as something
other than a parasitologist --- e.g., an ecologist, evolutionary biologist, 
physiologist, immunologist who WORKS ON PARASITES.  Just check out the ads in
Science and see how the ads are listed --- almost always by discipline, not
organism.  Note that this still leaves room for systematists (who can actually
identify a parasite to species), but only if they are working in contemporary
areas of systematics.  Students who are trained solely as parasitologists 
simply will not be competitive for most positions in major research 
institutions.  And even if they are fortunate enough to land a position at a 
major institution, they might be unable to support their research via 
extramural funding, and this is a kiss of death in the tenure system.

It is indeed disconcerting to see that many institutions are not hiring 
parasitologists, and I'm sure that this trend will continue.  My bet is that if
I were to retire tomorrow, our department might replace me with a physiologist 
or cell biologist-type person, but not one who necessarily works on parasites.
The same goes for our wildlife ecologists (who are really mammalogists, 
ornithologists, herpetologists, etc.), aquatic biologists, etc.  The days of 
replacing faculty "in kind" are over, and the only way in which a department
can remain dynamic and competitive is to change with the times.  At an 
institution such as Ohio State this is a problem, but it's not too serious 
because OSU is so large and various research interests and expertises are 
represented in many different departments.  But, in smaller liberal arts 
institutes this does present a significant problem, but it is a problem for 
which I have no solution.  Perhaps someone out there does have a solution that 
they will share with us.
-- 
Peter W. Pappas, Professor/Chairperson, Department of Zoology,
The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH  43210  USA
E-mail: pappas.3 at osu.edu; FAX (614)-292-2030,
PHONE (614)-292-8088



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