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CHRISTINA VARIAN, Panama, 2016-2017
Fulbright Scholar Christina Varian

Fulbright Year:
Country: Panama
Proposal Type: Research Grant
Field of Study: Pathology
Proposal Title: "Influences of Food Web Dynamics on Chagas Disease Transmission in Central Panamá"
Degree Program: PhD in Pathology
Hometown: Concord, California

While researching the ecology of the infectious, vector-borne Chagas disease during her Fulbright year in Panama, Christina Varian will find herself frequently up a tree.

A Ph.D. candidate in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Christina says she seeks to understand the effect species community and environmental factors have on driving the transmission process of the Chagas disease parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, and the population dynamics of its vector Rhodnius pallescens as a result of habitat disturbance.

“This involves climbing and exploring the canopy of palm trees (where Rhodnius pallescens lives) throughout habitat gradients within central Panama, catching arboreal vertebrate and invertebrate species, and working with local community members, students, and health institutions,” says Christina, who in 2011 earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from Humboldt State University.

“I’m really looking forward to climbing palm trees and exploring the canopy. Because palm crown species communities are relatively understudied and can be very difficult to access, it’s always exciting to find out what is hiding and living in a palm and the interactions that take place there.”

Christina will work with the parasitology department of the Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salu, or ICGES, for the field work and lab portion of her stay in Panama, where she has visited—for work and for pleasure—on five other occasions.

She says she also looks forward to working with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution.

“I have learned so much about Chagas disease ecology working in collaboration with ICGES, and they have been very supportive during my time in Panama,” says Christina, who has worked as a research assistant, lab tech, and teaching assistant at UGA.

After her Fulbright year, Christina will complete work on her Ph.D. in veterinary pathology and says she’ll continue her research with an eye toward working as a research faculty member.

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