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Laboratory of Holly Ernest

Will Swain

Will Swain

Will SwainWill Swain

Position: PhD Student, UWyo Program in Ecology and Department of Veterinary Sciences
Project: Elk population genomics and CWD
Education: M.Sc. in One Health – Infectious Diseases, Royal Veterinary College/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2019; B.Sc. in Microbiology (minor: Global Disease Biology), University of California, Davis, 2016
Phone: 307-766-6638


Research Interests:

Wyoming elk population genomics and CWD (doctoral research – UWyo)
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal prion disease that afflicts elk and other cervid species. Currently, there is no known prevention (e.g., immune response, vaccine) or treatment for CWD; however, some cervid species have polymorphisms in the prion protein gene (PRNP) that result in slower disease progression. Individuals with the “slow” PRNP genotype live longer and therefore have more opportunities to reproduce than individuals with the “fast” PRNP genotype. In collaboration with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department CWD Surveillance program, University of Wyoming researchers, and many others, we are studying the interrelationships among elk genetic population connectivity, PRNP genotypes, and the spread of CWD across the landscape. We are using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data to identify genetic population units and characterize genetic connectivity in relation to natural and human-constructed landscape features.

Characterizing zoonotic bacterial microbiota of fleas (master’s research – RVC & LSHTM)
I was exposed to the concept of “One Health” late in my undergraduate career, but I found that it was an excellent way of encapsulating my varied interests in human and veterinary medicine, public health, and infectious disease/zoonoses research. I moved to London as a Fulbright alternate to pursue a unique master’s program offered jointly by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) specifically in One Health – Infectious Diseases in order to further develop my skills as an inter- and transdisciplinary scientist. As part of my thesis work, I traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina where I was hosted by Drs. Ed Breitschwerdt and Erin Lashnits at the Intracellular Pathogens Research Lab (IPRL) at North Carolina State University (NCSU). I helped to facilitate a new project collecting fleas from community cats throughout the U.S. to characterize zoonotic bacteria in the flea gut microbiota and search for any signs of geographical variation.

Bartonella seroprevalence in stray domestic dogs in Mexico (UC Davis)
As an undergraduate, I worked as a research assistant in Dr. Bruno Chomel’s Bartonella research lab in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. I assisted in whole blood culture, DNA extraction, PCR analysis, indirect immunofluorescence assays (IFA), and fluorescence microscopy on a variety of animal samples—primarily blood from stray domestic dogs and cats and farm-raised sheep and goats—to search evidence of bartonellosis and Q Fever (Coxiella burnetii). As part of my undergraduate honors thesis, I participated in an original research project examining the seroprevalence and genetic markers of several Bartonella species (B. henselae, B. clarridgeiae, and B. vinsonii subsp berkhoffii) in stray domestic dogs from Tulancingo, Mexico.



I was raised in San Rafael, Marin County (part of the SF Bay Area) and was extremely fortunate to be constantly exposed to the awesome open spaces and wildlife native to the region—from birds of prey, deer, and snakes in my (literal) backyard to seasonally spawning Coho salmon just a short drive away. I developed a fascination for microbiology and infectious diseases during high school, which I carried with me through my undergraduate studies as a Regents Scholar at UC Davis. While working in a zoonotic disease lab as an undergrad, I began to become increasingly curious about the overlapping interfaces between human, animal, and environmental health, which led me to discover the burgeoning concept of “One Health.” After graduating from UC Davis and working as a bacteriology lab tech at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab, I moved to London as a Fulbright Alternate to complete an MSc program jointly offered between the Royal Veterinary College and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which helped me to further develop my interdisciplinary One Health skills. From there, I decided to return to the U.S. to dive deeper into disease ecology and the genetic bases of wildlife diseases by beginning a PhD here at the University of Wyoming.