VASCI student Mara Beck presented at the Undergraduate Research Conference

Mara Beck and poster

Title: “SARS-Cov-2 Serological Surveillance in New England White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)”

Summary: Global spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) reinforced the importance of understanding the mechanisms of zoonotic disease spread. Today’s novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is hypothesized to have originated in horseshoe bats–a natural host of coronaviruses–with subsequent animal intermediates propagating transmission to and from humans. One of such susceptible animal hosts and focus of this research are white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Increasingly suburban habitats, herd dynamics, asymptomatic infection, and unclear spillover mechanism necessitate a deeper understanding of cervid infection reservoirs. 

The current body of research in white-tailed deer reports seropositivity for non-human circulating variants–alpha, gamma, and delta–as well as omicron. Surveillance of local pathogen prevalence is warranted to inform the impact of humans on wildlife and future directions in public health in light of recent documentation of spillover to humans.

The present honors research project aims to analyze 50 student-collected dried blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 IgG, indicating previous infection and seroconversion. Dried blood spot samples were collected from hunter harvested carcasses at weight check stations in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties in Fall 2023. Weekly work in the Osborne lab sees continuous development and optimization of deer specific ELISA and ramping up of sample testing. 

The Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference (MassURC) was a wonderful opportunity to share my project with the community and make connections. I encourage every tenacious undergraduate with a passion for science and curious mind to try their hand at research, you may just find your niche! Many thanks to Dr. Barbara Osborne, Dr. Andrew Lover, Rebecca Lawlor, Ryan Baker, MassWildlife, and the Commonwealth Honors College, whose support and mentorship has been invaluable.