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College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

10 May 2019

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Bringing parasites to life

If the idea of parasites, like those in Ridley Scott’s Alien, gives you shivers — be warned that the reality of having to learn about the real things can be far worse.

Dr Constantin Constantinou, or ‘Con’, teaches Veterinary Parasitology at JCU. This is the study of parasites in animals, and the terrifying parasites he teaches about aren’t the only horrors in his class.

Veterinary Parasitology is a dense, complex and overwhelming topic that is difficult to learn. Fortunately for JCU Vet students, Con’s approach to teaching is filled with interesting, hands-on study and even props. This approach brings parasitology to life by making the individual parasites beautiful, interesting and relevant for students. It also helps them stand out from the crowd of ugly and boring creatures.

Con’s office is filled to the brim with his teaching tools, from morph suits with organs and parasites painted and pinned over them to 3D printed models of parasites like ticks and fleas. While it sounds like the average person’s nightmare, for students it’s a welcome approach to a challenging subject – although it can have unintended consequences.

“Thank you for making a potentially boring subject entertaining and interesting,” a student wrote to Con. “I love your jokes and pictures, but you have ruined my life in some ways; rice noodles look like tapeworms and I’m slightly traumatised by the mouthparts of several parasites.”

Parasites revealed using immunofluorescence and microscopy techniques
JCU veterinary students
JCU veterinary students benefit from technology that allows them to examine parasites using immunofluorescence and microscopy techniques.

Impacting the scientific community

Con’s expertise in the fine techniques of immunofluorescence and special microscopy help him investigate the host-pathogen interaction.

This has had a significant impact on both the scientific community, as well as the wider population. The photos Con produces have won prestigious international awards and were published on the covers of books and journals.

Despite being the lecturer that every student wishes they had, the unassuming Con was stunned when the Vice Chancellor called him and asked him to present JCU’s Last Lecture. Despite his qualifications, Con was humbled by the credentials of previous presenters, which included Professor Geoffrey Dobson presenting his work on an anti-haemorrhaging drug that is sponsored by the United States Army.

“My lecture might be a little different form previous lectures,” Con says. “I’m not going to talk about my research; I’m going to talk about some parasites that are very dangerous. They’re dangerous for the health of our pets, and also for the health of humans.

“It’s about hookworms, which are common in North Queensland. They’re common in small animals, and hookworms in small animals can also infect humans.”

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