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370

Susan Perkins

OLogy Series
ologist
card
370

Susan Perkins

OLogy Series
ologist

Susan Perkins has always loved being outside. As a child, she played in the woods and took field notes about birds and squirrels. When she got a microscope for her sixth birthday, she began to see nature in a whole new way. Today, she's a microbiologist, a scientist who studies microbes. Microbes are tiny organisms that are too small to be seen without a microscope. Much of Dr. Perkin's work focuses on microbes that cause malaria, a disease that kills over a million people every year.

The microbes that cause malaria are called parasites. They are spread to humans and other animals by:

close contact with an infected human or other animal

drinking water

mosquito bites

Are you right?

Correct!

Parasites live in and feed on other organisms. When a mosquito bites a person with malaria, it picks up the parasites living in the person's blood. When the infected mosquito bites other people, it transmits the parasites to them.

Susan studies the DNA of malaria parasites of infected bats, rodents, and lizards because:

these parasites are the same species that infect humans

these parasites help scientists understand different species of malaria parasites

these animals can transmit malaria to humans

Are you right?

Correct!

Different species infect humans, bats, and other animals. (There are over 500 species of malaria!) But by comparing the DNA of different species, scientists can better understand them.

Susan Perkins, microbiologist

I always say I have the dream job of a six year old: I get to travel to fun and interesting places, chase and catch lizards, take blood samples, and look at them under a microscope to see if there are parasites in there.

Susan Perkins, microbiologist

When you look at microorganisms, they're so diverse! They come in all shapes and sizes and what they can do. We can learn so much more about how life arose on the planet by looking at these tiny living things we can't see.

Susan Perkins, microbiologist

All it takes to be a scientist is curiosity about the world we live in. If you like learning about how things work or what animals and plants do... or if you like to daydream about being in space, don't let go of that!

When researching new drugs to fight malaria, scientists must use the same parasite species that infect humans.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

In fact, much of the research on malaria medicine is usually done on malaria species that infect rodents. They can test these medicines on lab mice.

Dr. Perkins and her team studied more than 250 bats infected with malaria in West Africa and found they were all infected with the same species of malaria.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Scientists were surprised to find that the bats were infected by a large number of different malaria parasites. The parasites' DNA helped scientists understand the diversity of malaria parasites of bats.

Many microbes in our bodies keep us healthy.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Some microbes may cause disease, but most actually help us fight diseases! Others help us digest food and generally keep us healthy.

Name: Susan Perkins
Hometown: Massena, NY
Job: Curator, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
Education: BA, SUNY Potsdam; PhD, University of Vermont
Current Work: Studies malarial parasites and other microbes in vertebrate animals
Cool Fact: Susan curated The Secret World Inside You, an exhibition that's all about the microbes that live on and in humans!

Image credits: © AMNH; Susan Perkins: AMNH; Susan Perkins: AMNH; Susan Perkins: AMNH.