Ben Hanelt, PhD

—Pilot Project Recipient—

Photo: Ben Hanelt

Senior Lecturer III

Department of Biology, University of New Mexico


Research Interests:

Host-parasite evolution, invertebrate immunology, biology and systematics of the phylum Nematomorpha.

Pilot Project:

The immune system of a parasite and its contribution to the defense of the host-parasite unit.

Host-parasite symbionts involve the complex interaction of two interconnected biological systems with a net flow of energy and nutrients.  Once the symbiosis establishes, the host and parasite can be viewed as a unit, often acting and appearing different than each organism individually.  Many facets of the host-parasite unit have been studied; however, scientists lack a clear understanding of how the unit responds to immunological threats. Do the symbionts react separately, as they would as non-symbionts?  Does the parasite rely on the host’s immune system? Does the parasite need its own highly honed immune system to survive in a host?  Or, does the parasite produce immune factors helpful to the unit? To fully understand how coevolution has shaped the immune response of the unit, the immune repertoire of each symbiont must be identified individually and compared to the immune response of the unit.  Although the immune systems of hosts have been well studied, those of parasites are practically unknown and even general speculation about the extent of the immune capability of parasites is difficult. This proposal seeks to fill in these gaps in our knowledge using a tractable, non-model host-parasite system.  Two fundamental questions about this host-parasite system will be addressed: 1) What is the immune repertoire of a hairworm parasite? And 2) What is the immunological role of the parasite symbiont within the unit?  These aims will provide a unique in-depth look at how a parasite and a host-parasite unit respond to immunological threats.