‘I like being elbows-deep in the gross stuff’
Darryl Ann Girardin’s hands-on experience in the University of Maine’s Animal Health Lab included necropsies on young moose. The animals were found dead in the Maine woods in 2010, and brought to the lab by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife officers to determine the cause of the higher-than-normal mortalities. Lab Director Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner and her team, including senior capstone student Jana Drury, found high counts of lungworm in the moose, which led to the question — and Girardin’s honors thesis — about the species of the parasite.
The speciation process involved Girardin learning to perform DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis, cloning and DNA sequencing. The research team isolated a gene from lungworms whose DNA sequence will be compared to those published in a genome database.
“This procedure allows us to be open to possibly discovering a novel lungworm species — or at least one not previously known to be infecting Maine moose,” says Girardin, whose research was selected for this year’s Undergraduate Research and Academic Showcase on campus. “The lungworms discovered in other studies are not host-specific, which means one species of lungworm could infect moose, deer, even cattle. This could have serious implications for the control of the parasite.”
Last September through November during the Maine moose hunt, Girardin joined Inland Fisheries and Wildlife officers at the tagging stations to collect lungs from the gut piles. Moose lungs were analyzed for lungworms. If lungworms were found, they were collected for lab work to determine the infectious species.
Girardin also assisted Inland Fisheries and Wildlife officers in the collection of moose ovaries for a reproductive health study.
“When I tell people what I do, a lot of them say, ‘Eeeww, why do you want to do that?’” she says. “I like being elbows-deep in the gross stuff. We need to know what diseases are affecting our populations of animals — wildlife especially. We need to know if we’re going to have a problem on our hands.”