LSU Postdoctoral Researcher Awarded LSRF Fellowship

In A First For an LSU Postdoctoral Researcher, Kelly Receives a Prestigious LSRF Fellowship

 

BATON ROUGE - The Life Sciences Research Foundation (LSRF)  believes that seminal advances in life sciences depend upon the training and support of the highest quality young scientists when they are embarking on exciting and adventuresome research as postdoctoral fellows. To promote this vision we partner the best young scientists with diverse sponsors who share common interests. 

Photo

Tosha Kelly in the Kisatchie National Forest 

-Tosha Kelly

For the first time ever, an LSU Postdoc, Tosha Kelly, with the Lattin Lab, has been awarded this fellowship. Here Kelly talks about what led her to her her field of research and why her research is important and breakthroughs that can result from her work.  

"Being in nature fueled my curiosity and passion for animals growing up. I spent each day searching for animals and would document my findings in notebooks I made from recycled paper. I respect all animals for the physiological feats that allow them to persist in the wilderness, but birds absolutely blow my mind. Their quirky personalities drew me in and the marked variation among species had me hooked. Species vary vastly in physical form and colours all due to unique adaptations to practically every physical environment on Earth; they can burrow, swim, walk, run, and have conquered the air. (One of) the last major challenges for birds, to me, is an ongoing defence against organisms that also evolve over time: pathogens."

Indeed, the coevolutionary arms race between birds and pathogens is where my curious brain has found home.

"During my PhD (Western University, Canada) I investigated the challenge of being infected with malaria during the migratory period when birds are allocating resources to grand geographic movements. This work required manipulating the infection status of birds in both captive and field-based experiments while quantifying their physiological and behavioural responses. One of the most interesting (and unexpected) results of this work was that the birds that did not become infected with malaria also exhibited negative behavioural and physiological effects after malaria exposure. I predicted negative effects in successfully infected birds but, if resisting infection incurs negative costs as well then why bother resisting infection at all? What is the physiological mechanism that mediates the costs and benefits of disease resistance?"

 

Image taken through a microscope of a bird blood smear. Bird red blood cells are nucleated and you can see in the cytoplasm of some of these cells there are darkly stained bodies with granules

Image taken through a microscope of a bird blood smear. Bird red blood cells are nucleated and you can see in the cytoplasm of some of these cells there are darkly stained bodies with granules
Tosha Kelly

We proposed this idea to the Life Science Research Foundation with a series of experiments that test the causal relationship between corticosterone, cytokines (signaling molecules released by cells of the immune system), and immune function during avian malaria infection. Our experiments will monitor resistance (an animal’s ability to limit its parasite load) and tolerance (an animal’s ability to maintain its condition for a specific parasite load). Ultimately, these metrics can indicate whether HPA axis function mediates how well malaria parasites sustain themselves within the host (i.e., host-parasite dynamics)."I started working with Dr. Lattin to investigate the relationship between immune function and stress. Namely, how can corticosterone, a hormone that responds to ‘stress’ in birds (including pathogen invasion), be helpful or harmful during infection? Our expertise collided to propose that the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that releases corticosterone could be a potential mechanism that mediates resistance and tolerance to malaria infection

 

This research is important because wild animals are being exposed to increasing numbers of stressors because of habitat degradation, exposure to novel predators and competitors, and severe weather events as a result of climate change, all which can cause increased corticosterone secretion.

Furthermore, avian malaria is expected to expand its range with change because warmer temperatures are better for parasite development and transmission. Understanding the mechanism mediating host-parasite dynamics at the individual level is a steppingstone to predicting parasite dynamics at larger scales like populations. We therefore need to understand how additional exposure to corticosterone will affect avian behaviour and physiology during infection if we hope to anticipate the future spread of disease. If the HPA axis mediates host-parasite dynamics, it may be one of the keys to understanding why individuals exposed to a disease get sick while others do not.

 

Since 1983, the Life Sciences Research Foundation (LSRF) has funded nearly 550 outstanding postdoctoral fellows in all areas of the life sciences, and raised more than $50 million from generous industries, foundations and individuals to support this effort.

 

"We believe that discoveries and application of innovations in biology for the public's good depends upon the training and support of the highest quality young scientists. Every year our selection committee of renowned scientists identify the top 5% of applicants from an international pool of more than 1000 postdoctoral applicants. Once chosen, the LSRF collaborates with current and potential sponsors to match them with fellows with similar research interests."