Newsroom Midwest Region

A parasitologist love story

Parasitologist Dr. Becky Lasee with her late husband, Dr. Daniel Sutherland. Image courtesy of Becky Lasee.
Parasitologist Dr. Becky Lasee with her late husband, Dr. Daniel Sutherland. Image courtesy of Becky Lasee.

They found each other in life, and now their parasite namesakes have found each other too. Dr. Becky Lasee, retired Project Leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service La Crosse Fish Health Center (Center), was recently honored by Eric Leis, a former student and colleague, with a new parasite named in her honor. Henneguya laseeae was discovered and characterized by researchers from the La Crosse Fish Health Center and Mississippi State University. While learning about the new parasite, a remarkable discovery was made. Nestled close to H. laseeae on the parasite’s family tree was Henneguya sutherlandi, named for Dr. Daniel Sutherland, who also happens to be Becky Lasee’s late husband.

Image of myxospores, the spores of the microscopic parasite, named in honor of Dr. Becky Lasee by Eric Leis, one of her former students and colleagues. Leis is currently a biologist at the La Crosse Fish Health Center located in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Image courtesy of Eric Leis.
Image of myxospores, the spores of the microscopic parasite, named in honor of Dr. Becky Lasee by Eric Leis, one of her former students and colleagues. Leis is currently a biologist at the La Crosse Fish Health Center located in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Image courtesy of Eric Leis.

"I was overwhelmed when Eric told me the Henneguya parasites were closely aligned. The trained biologist in me would attribute this to coincidence, but the love, admiration and respect I have for my husband Dan led me to believe that it is more likely destiny."

Dr. Lasee and Dr. Sutherland are known in the fish health community for sharing their love and enthusiasm for parasites with students and colleagues. Their top priority was to transfer knowledge and an actual comprehension of the amazing biology that can be observed in the nature of parasites. Sutherland’s personable lecture style captivated the classroom, as did his knack for engaging students through humorous anecdotes. Lasee’s style for instructing others in the field of parasitology was one of absolute kindness and patience. The care she conveyed while working with her students on sometimes tedious tasks, such as using taxonomic keys to identify parasites, left a lasting impression with many.

"I couldn't believe that these accomplished scientists would give me the time of day, but they both took the time to interview me for graduate school,” said former student and La Crosse Fish Health Center fish biologist Jennifer Bailey. “They were so kind, and so funny. Becky said I should follow my dream and do the project. Dan stayed up all night writing a grant to fund it. And they both reached out and offered to teach me everything I needed to know to complete it." Caring and supportive actions were the norm for this pair of devoted educators.

Henneguya parasites are as interesting in nature as the scientists after whom they are named. Their life cycle is fascinating, as it requires both a fish and a sediment dwelling invertebrate worm to develop and reproduce. Typically an infected worm releases a sessile form of Henneguya that passively floats through the water column waiting to contact a specific fish species. Infection results in large cysts containing thousands of microscopic spores, which are released in the water and go on to infect the invertebrate host; thereby continuing the parasite’s lifecycle. These parasites continue to fascinate scientists with intriguing infections and a truly amazing level of species diversity.

Dr. Lasee stood out for her knowledge in the field, and for the way that she made her students and employees feel appreciated. Out of deep respect, her former students and colleagues are proud she is immortalized with the naming of Henneguya laseeae, and pleased to find it so close to Henneguya sutherlandi. In the world of humans and in the world of parasites, some things are meant to be.

Dr. Becky Lasee (center) in 2013 with the staff of the La Crosse Fish Health Center and Whitney Genetics Laboratory. Becky retired as Project Leader in April of 2013. Photo by USFWS.
Dr. Becky Lasee (center) in 2013 with the staff of the La Crosse Fish Health Center and Whitney Genetics Laboratory. Becky retired as Project Leader in April of 2013. Photo by USFWS.

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