Malaria's Many Mates: Challenges and Opportunities of Haemosporidian Systematics

Date and Location
Monday November 01, 2021 12:00pm
Online Seminar

Online Registration

If you would like to attend the talk, please register for the EEMB seminar series for access to the webinar.


Dr. Susan Perkins
Martin and Michele Cohen Dean of Science
The City College of New York


The Order Haemosporida is a large and very diverse clade of protistan parasites. While the five species of Plasmodium that commonly infect humans are far and away the best studied, there are hundreds of other lineages that utilize a wide variety of both vertebrate and dipteran hosts. These varied taxa offer many opportunities to understand how key traits such as cell invasion, hemoglobin metabolism, and host switches evolved within the group. However, these opportunities are predicated on robust phylogenetic trees for the relationship amongst these species and genera, and these have been extremely challenging to construct. I will share the history of how the field has moved from using just simple characters of host use and life histories to morphometric analysis and eventually to employing molecular data. This progression has been hampered -- and at times downright misled -- by multiple genetic oddities of these parasites. While our understanding of the deep evolutionary history of this clade is very far from complete, improvements in both the breadth of samples that are studied as well as key advances in obtaining genomic data offer great promise for the path ahead.


Dr. Susan Perkins has been the Martin and Michele Cohen Dean of Science at the City College of New York since 2020. Her lab conducts research on a wide array of systems that involve parasitic and other symbiotic relationships with wild organisms. She conducts evolutionary, systematic, and genomic research on the order of parasites that includes those that cause malaria in humans. Lab members have studied these parasites in a variety of hosts ranging from lizards to bats, to deer, birds, and turtles. Students in her lab have studied other parasites such as trypanosomes, canine heartworm, ectoparasites, and trypanosomes. They are also interested in the causes of variation in the microbiomes of wild vertebrates and arthropods, as well as the interactions of parasites and microbiomes in these animals. Prior to her current position, Dr. Perkins worked a Curator and Professor for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) from 2004 to 2020. She co-curated an exhibit on the human microbiome called “The Secret Life Inside You.” From 2010 to 2011, she was a Program Director for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Environmental Biology. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado from 2001 to 2004. Her publications portfolio includes 76 peer-reviewed articles and 2 books. Dr. Perkins earned her B.A. in Biology at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Potsdam, and her PhD at the University of Vermont. Dr. Perkins was the President of the American Society of Parasitologists from 2017-2018 and a Council Member for the Society of Systematic Biologists in both 2012-2015 and 2018-2021. She won the Distinguished Alumna Award at SUNY at Potsdam in 2013 and gave the Daniel C. Wilhoft Lecture in Ecology and Evolution at Rutgers University at Newark in 2011.