Two years ago, Ellen Martinsen, Ph.D., was collecting mosquitoes at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washingon, DC, looking for malaria parasites that might infect birds, when she discovered something strange: a DNA profile, from parasites in the mosquitoes, that she couldn't identify. By chance, she had discovered a malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei--that infects white-tailed deer. It's the first-ever malaria parasite known to live in a deer species and the only native malaria parasite found in any mammal in North or South America. Though white-tailed deer diseases have been heavily studied--scientist hadn't noticed that many have malaria parasites. Dr. Martinsen and her colleagues now estimate that the P. odocoilie parasite infects up to twenty-five percent of white-tailed deer along the East Coast of the United States. Their results were published online on February 5, 2016 in Science Advances. The article is titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Cryptic and Endemic Malaria Parasites in North American White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianu.” “You never know what you're going to find when you're out in nature--and you look," says Dr. Martinsen, a research associate at the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute and an adjunct faculty member in the University of Vermont's (UVM’s) Biology Department. "It's a parasite that has been hidden in the most iconic game animal in the United States. I just stumbled across it." The newly published study, led by Dr. Martinsen, was a collaboration among scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Park Service, the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee--and UVM biologist and malaria expert Joseph Schall, Ph.D. Although Dr. Martinsen and Dr.
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