Zoology Graduate Student Receives Prestigious Grant

justinJustin Lack, a PhD student in the OSU Zoology Department received a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for the study titled “Comparative phylogeography of Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus in the U.S. and dispersal potential of rat-borne pathogens”. Justin will examine the ability of invasive rats to act as carriers of the hepatitis E virus (HEV) in the U.S., as well as their potential role in spreading HEV to humans. The mortality rate of HEV infection ranges from 1-4% in the general public, but is as high as 20% in pregnant women and is therefore a pathogen of concern. Invasive rats are arguably the most destructive invasive species on the planet, carrying an array of pathogens that have been responsible for some of the most devastating epidemics in human history. Through their close relationship with humans, rats have spread to every continent and can reach high numbers in densely populated urban areas, making them effective vectors for the spread of infectious disease. HEV infections have been detected at a high frequency in humans from urban areas in the U.S., but the transmission pathways traditionally thought to be responsible for HEV spread are not present. Invasive rats have been shown to have high HEV infection rates in the U.S. (>40%) and are competent hosts of human HEV. In the proposed work, invasive rats collected from across the United States will be examined for HEV infection, providing information concerning infection rate and the rate with which rats are spreading HEV across the country. Justin’s major professor is Dr. Ron Van Den Bussche.