Senior Wood Honors College students Nishi Natalia and Julia Sendatch have been selected to present their research on tick populations and tick borne diseases at the virtual Northeast Regional Honors Conference this spring.

Their research focuses on “analyzing previously established databases concerning tick populations in Pennsylvania,” said Natalia. Ultimately, the biology majors hope to better understand the distribution and fluctuation of ticks over the years, thereby recognizing the impact of tick-borne diseases.

The project’s methodology involves compiling databases from 2008-2020 that have been completed by previous undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty. Natalia and Sendatch accumulated 15,000 entries of ticks that have been collected, identified, and analyzed molecularly. After using the data to map out location and distribution, they can conduct comparative analysis according to the season distribution and molecular status of the ticks.

Tick-borne diseases pose a serious threat to the public health of Pennsylvania residents and animals. Natalia said she believes a better understanding of the local and regional distribution of ticks is necessary to improve public health awareness and to reduce severe and/or fatal outcomes, especially in an understudied state like Pennsylvania.

Natalia was eager to conduct research that could be essential to future disease prevention and treatment. “As a student who is hoping to go to medical school in the near future, these diseases will be ones that will directly impact my future patients, so understanding their distributions and impact over the last decade will truly be pertinent to my career and those I will be serving every day.”

As the conference approaches, the two senior biology majors will prepare by continuing to collect data. “We still have quite a bit to investigate,” Natalia expressed, “but we are hopeful that we can continue our work on the project once the semester begins.”

Natalia considers it an “honor” to present this research at the conference, dedicating the opportunity to her experiences with the Wood Honors College. She looks forward to sharing and spreading more awareness about tick populations and tick-borne diseases.