LEWISTON — Senior Research Scientist Dr. Jose Antonio Fernandez-Robledo of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay will be the presenter at the USM Lewiston–Auburn Senior College “Food for Thought” 11:30 a.m. luncheon on Friday, Nov. 8.

Fernandez-Robledo is an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and holds a PhD from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. His topic is “”The oyster parasite Perkinsus Marinus: an unexpected link between oysters and malaria”

Fernandez-Robledo’s current research focuses on two fronts; one is the study of “Dermo” disease (caused by the parasite Perkinsus Marinus), which has devastated natural and farmed oyster populations in the United States, significantly affecting the shellfish industry and the estuarine environment. These parasites are distributed world-wide and, in some cases, the gradual expansion of their geographic distribution has been associated with global warming and shellfish trade.

The second aspect of his research is focused on the genetic study between the Dermo disease parasite and its common ancestor found in the parasites of human and veterinary relevance (e.g. Malaria, Toxoplasmosis). Fernandez-Robledo’s research methodology involves the use of a combination of molecular tools to address a range of questions about host-parasite interactions, identification of new drug targets for intervention against the oyster disease, and the applications of marine protozoan to biomedicine and biotechnology. These include the development of the oyster parasite into a platform for vaccine delivery against malaria and the screening of compound libraries active against parasites.

Malaria is a potentially lethal infectious disease which has afflicted people for much of human history. Although the disease is not prevalent in the United States, it remains a major public health problem, causing 250 million cases of fever and approximately one million deaths annually. Since the discovery of the Malaria parasite, attention has focused on its biology. Thus, an understanding of the genetic relationship with the oyster parasite is key to new drug targets for intervention against the oyster disease, as well as potential vaccine delivery against Malaria.

Fernandez-Robledo will also touch on other aspects of the laboratory’s overall mission, which is the advancement of society’s understanding of the interactions between marine ecosystems and the environment, through research and education.

Senior College, now in its 15th year, presents the monthly 11:30 luncheon program in the Function Room 170 at USM LAC. The cost, which includes lunch, is $7 with advance reservation or $8 at the door. Reservations must be made by noon on Thursday, Nov. 7, by calling 753-6510. Any late callers will be considered “at the door.”

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