In April Nina Wale, an empiricist at Penn State University, collaborated with Aaron King, a theoretical evolutionary ecologist at the University of Michigan.
Experiments conducted by Wale have revealed that varying the availability of a micronutrient in the blood alters the infection dynamics in the mouse malaria model Plasmodium chabaudi. Importantly, her nutrient manipulations altered the dynamics during a period of the infection that has proven difficult to model and is associated with an augmentation of the host immune response. With these data in hand, Wale and King hoped to shed light on the determinants of parasite population dynamics and on how parasites interact with the host immune response. The research exchange gave Wale and King an opportunity to work intensely to build a model that could describe the data. Wale, an empiricist, learned how the models they made worked ‘under the hood’ and developed her programming skills. A number of hypotheses about the underlying causes of malaria infection dynamics have emerged from their modeling work and they are designing experiments to test them. They hope to continue using theory and data in combination to broaden our understanding of how parasite traits and the host immune response interact to create the characteristic dynamics of malaria infections.