April 12, 2023

Vet med researchers bring the wonders of parasites to all ages at Fishtival event

Event-goers learn about host-parasite interactions, whirling disease, and other fishy facts
From left to right: Viraj Muthye, Grace Ochigbo, Sina Mohtasebi and Ty Pan host a booth at Bow Habitat Station's annual Fishtival event
From left: Viraj Muthye, Grace Ochigbo, Sina Mohtasebi and Ty Pan host a booth at Bow Habitat Station's annual Fishtival event. Courtesy Viraj Muthye

On Feb. 18, four emerging researchers of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) took part in Bow Habitat Station’s annual Fishtival event. The UCVM team was Dr. Viraj Muthye, a UCVM postdoc, and three UCVM graduate students, Ty Pan, Sina Mohtasebi, and Dr. Grace Ochigbo, DVM. The four are also members of the Host-Parasite Interactions (HPI) research training network, an inter-institution group of 20 labs from across Western Canada.

The festival was dedicated to immersing audiences in the world of fish to discover what is beneath the winter ice in Alberta’s waters. The UCVM/HPI team’s goal was to educate and entertain the public about parasites in the water. One of the parasites was whirling disease, an invasive parasite that has had a significant and negative impact on Alberta's rivers and recreational fishing industry. The microscopic parasite, Myxobolus cerebralis, was first discovered in Johnson Lake in 2016.

Spot a Parasite

Spot a Parasite was the game provided by the four emerging researchers from UCVM at the Bow Habitat Station's annual Fishtival event.

Viraj Muthye

With over 1,000 tickets sold to the one-day event, the HPI/UCVM team members were busy engaging with attendees. One of their activities was a game in which participants caught a toy fish and then had to discover which parasite might lurk inside or on their catch. This required matching the DNA of the parasite to a database of DNA. In addition to the game, the public could view different parasites using microscopes. 

“It was fun to build relationships with so many children,” says Muthye. “Not only did we talk about science, but we also engaged their parents and grandparents by telling them about UCVM and how our research benefits them. I really wanted to show young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures that they, too, can be scientists!”

“This is an amazing effort and demonstrates how UCVM’s and HPI’s research aligns with concerns of Albertans,” says UCVM associate professor Dr. James Wasmuth, PhD. The research on whirling disease is funded by a grant to Wasmuth from the Alberta Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas. 

The UCVM/HPI impressed organizers and attendees so much that the team has been invited to participate in the Alberta Biodiversity Festival in September 2023, hosted by the Wilder Institute / Calgary Zoo. Learn more about the event

The HPI research training network is a leader in knowledge engagement, participating at many public venues, including schools. If you are interested in finding out more, please email hpi@ucalgary.ca.

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