Peru State Student-Athlete Studies Cockroaches to Make Connections with Malaria Disease

PERU – After working with cockroaches for the past three years, a Peru State student-athlete had the chance to present her research, that in a small way can help chip away at finding a cure for the disease malaria.

Kiana Borengasser, who runs cross-country for the school, presented her research on gregarines, or gut parasites in cockroaches, to the Rocky Mountain Society of Parasitologists at the Cedar Point Biological Station on Lake Ogallala in western Nebraska.

The research concluded that the bigger the gregarines, the more offspring they produce.

“Larger gregarines produce more offspring, because they have more energy within them,” says Borengasser.

Parasitologist and Peru State Biology Professor Dr. Rich Clopton has overseen Borengasser’s research. He says studying gregarines gives scientists a better idea of treating one of the world’s worst diseases.

“This is essentially the malaria of insects, this is the parasitic group in which malaria evolved,” says Clopton.

Clopton has had a series of students studying gregarines for past 4-5 years, looking at how they react to tempertures, humidity, as well as studying their energy with Borengasser.

“People tend to work on small parts of the problem, often you don’t know where the work you do is going to fall into place and solve the big problem,” says Clopton.

It took Borengasser around a year to complete the research, working alongside Chelsea Reznicek and Sydney Armbruster.

Borengasser, a disease and human health major, says her friends first gawked at her working with cockroaches but she has become a natural at handling them.

“And they’re really crawly on your hands, at first you’re just freaked out and then it’s natural you can just pick them up with your hands, don’t even need gloves anymore,” says Borengasser.

She also has to make sure she’s managing her research and the rest of her classes, with her busy cross-country schedule.

“Cross country is easy because you have practice right in the morning at 5:30, the hardest part is getting to class at 8 a.m. because your sugar levels are all down, you’re falling asleep. I just make sure that I at least get 30 minutes after the class is done, I just review my notes and it seems to work out well,” says Borengasser.

Dr. Clopton is planning taking some of students to Matagorda Bay in Texas over spring break to work with gregarines in marine systems.

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