UT Hosts Conference on Deadly Parasite

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KNOXVILLE — Researchers from all over the world will join forces at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this week to try to combat a deadly parasite which has infected up to one-quarter of Americans and up to one-third of the world’s population, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Forty scientists and mathematicians will attend the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) Investigative Workshop, Modeling Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), on May 13-15 at the NIMBioS offices in Blount Hall on the UT Knoxville campus. The workshop aims to explore mathematical tools and problems in describing the life cycle, stage conversion and clonal expansion of T. gondii.

T. gondii is considered as one of the most successful parasites for its unusual ability to infect a wide range of intermediate hosts, including all mammals and birds. Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common parasitic infections throughout the world. It can have significant effects on human and animal behavior and may lead to neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and blindess. Common causes of infection include eating undercooked, contaminated meat or coming in contact with contaminated cat feces.

By bringing together expertise in parasitic diseases, epidemiology, population genetics, disease modeling, network dynamics, evolutionary dynamics and nonlinear analysis, the workshop will explore various modeling and analysis methods for potential application in public health strategies and in diagnosis, suppression and prevention of the parasite.

NIMBioS brings together researchers from around the world to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries to investigate solutions to basic and applied problems in the life sciences. This collaboration has had a profound impact on the local economy. More than 700 people have come to Knoxville from more than 25 countries to attend NIMBioS-sponsored events since the institute began its activities in March 2009.

NIMBioS also has created more than 25 new jobs at UT Knoxville. A September 2009 study by Professor Matthew Murray of the UT Center for Business and Economic Research predicted this job creation and associated NIMBioS expenditures will help support as many as 50 private sector jobs in the local community, along with additional private income in excess of $1 million per year.

NIMBioS is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with additional support from UT Knoxville.

The Toxoplasma Workshop is organized by Xiaopeng Zhao, UT Knoxville assistant professor of biomedical engineering; Chunlei Su, UT Knoxville assistant professor of microbiology; Jitender P. Dubey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases; Michel Langlais, professor of applied mathematics at the Universite Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2, France; Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS associate director for education and outreach and UT Knoxville professor of mathematics; and Jaewook Joo, UT Knoxville assistant professor of physics.

For more information NIMBioS, visit http://nimbios.org. For more information about the workshop, visit http://www.nimbios.org/workshops/WS_Toxoplasma.

C O N T A C T:

Catherine Crawley (865-974-9350, ccrawley@nimbios.org)

Whitney Holmes (865-974-5460, wholmes7@utk.edu)

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