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Welcome to the MSB
Division of Parasitology

 

The Museum of Southwestern Biology's Division of Parasitology main research collection is of North American parasites from mammals and birds and is largely composed of the integrated collection of Dr. Robert and Virginia Rausch. The Rausch collection not only has holdings in the Division of Parasitology, but also the Division of Mammals at MSB.

The Division of Parasitology is open by appointment only during regular business hours to researchers and the general public. Visitors must call or e-mail the Collection Manager (Sara Brant) in advance (505-277-8171) or email sbrant 'at' unm.edu to arrange a date and time to visit collection.

 

   A note from our Curator, Dr. Sam Loker

  At least half of the world’s species live in or on another organism and cause that host organism some measure of harm while themselves deriving benefit – in other words, they are parasites. Collectively parasites represent an enormous reservoir of largely unstudied genetic diversity and capacity, and present unique and astonishing features worthy of admiration and preservation for posterity. The primary mission of the newly-formed Division of Parasitology is to preserve as much of this diversity as possible. Biodiversity is today imperiled by a number of factors – habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, urbanization, globalization, rapid climate change and introduction of exotic species, to name some. Any of these forces that conspire to cause extinctions of host species very likely are actually conspiring to also cause co-extinction events, meaning that specialized parasites dependent on the host in question will also be extirpated. One of our goals is to collect, characterize and preserve, as many parasite species as possible before they are no longer exist. It is particularly tragic when extinctions occur of species we never even knew existed, or never had a chance to understand.

One of our goals is to continue to support the discipline of systematic parasitology, the goals of which are in many ways overlapping with those mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Systematic parasitologists document the diversity of the world’s parasites and seek to understand the evolutionary processes responsible for generating it. They also seek to achieve a deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of parasite-host relationships. We want the Division of Parasitology to be a well-curated repository for parasites that are then freely available for future generations of parasitologists to study and interpret. Ideally, in addition to study the specimens themselves, our parasite specimens will be made available in forms where their genetic material (potentially entire genomes) can eventually be characterized, and their relationships with their hosts fully understood. Accordingly, we hope to curate parasite specimens in a way that pertinent collection information is fully integrated with data pertaining to the hosts from which they were collected.

 

Many parasite species, often of medical or veterinary importance, are actively subjected to control operations in many parts of the world. These control programs have the potential not only to change the genetic constitution of the parasites themselves, but may eventually result in their elimination. Because these parasites have enormous health impacts and represent such a significant part of our collective experience, one of our goals is to receive and preserve specimens of parasites of medical or veterinary significance such that they can become reference points by which we can measure the nature of parasite control and its long-term impacts on parasite diversity.

 

Finally, an important goal of the Division is to serve to interface with, and educate the public regarding all aspects of the fascinating biology of parasites. Years of study of the biology of parasites have taught us that people are intrinsically fascinated by parasites, a fascination that can only be expected to deepen if we do our job and increase public awareness and understanding of them.

 

Come by and see our display case outside of the Biology office in Castetter!