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David Rodriguez - Biology



David Rodriguez – Biology

The Project

David Rodriguez - BiologyNegative effects of fungal diseases on humans, plants, and wildlife have increased over the last few decades, but host-pathogen interactions are still poorly understood. One reason is that biodiversity of both hosts and fungi is critically understudied, especially in tropical forests. To detect which hosts are responsible for transmitting introduced fungal pathogens, we need to measure genetic diversity in populations across invaded landscapes.

The amphibian-killing fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, originated in Asia and is considered one of the most destructive pathogens to wildlife. It has caused population decline and even extinction of amphibian species in different parts of the world. Studies of disease dynamics can benefit from the development and use of genetic methods applied in the field. Recent advances in genetic technology have allowed DNA sequencing and qPCR-based diagnostics using portable equipment, making it possible to study disease dynamics as they occur in nature.

This project will incorporate these technologies along with canopy sampling techniques to investigate post-invasion dynamics of fungal chytrids in tropical forests of Ecuador, while measuring genetic diversity in both the fungus and its infected amphibian hosts. The research will also incorporate our ongoing Education Abroad-Ecuador program that consists of rigorous and immersive field-based courses for Texas State University undergraduate and graduate students. We hope to use this curriculum to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in ecology and evolutionary biology through impactful research training and educational experiences. Our project will also address the need for undergraduate bioinformatics training in the Department of Biology. 

CAREER Journey

Applying for the NSF-CAREER program is an involved process that requires time and resources to build a well-written narrative with a solid research plan and sufficient preliminary data, which together speak to the scientific merit and feasibility of the project. However, this particular program also requires a well-integrated education component.

While much of my previous work focused on chytrid research in Brazil, new collaborations at Texas State opened teaching opportunities in Ecuador. By leveraging our field-based Education Abroad program, startup funds, and internal grants (REP and IRA), I was able to develop new techniques to help answer questions about host-pathogen interactions in the chytrid system. These preliminary results served as the foundation for my proposal.

Even though I wanted to submit a proposal as soon as possible, I believe I benefitted from taking a more patient approach. I also learned a lot by serving as a reviewer for two NSF proposals and submitting to other NSF programs before writing my CAREER proposal. My first CAREER submission was declined, but I was able to add more preliminary data and leverage reviewer comments to refine and improve my second submission, which was funded. Working at a Hispanic-Serving Institution provides ample opportunities to develop activities that serve our increasingly diverse student population, and well-planned, sincere activities will align tightly with NSF’s Broader Impacts criterion. Lastly, having trusted and knowledgeable colleagues review my proposal was extremely beneficial to the entire process.